Balsam Firs (Abies basamea) in a Swampy Roadside Area

Photo of Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

roadside scene with conical evergreen trees mixed with bare deciduous trees, behind a ditch filled with small yellow flowers

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This photo shows a community of balsam firs (Abies balsamea) growing in a swampy area along a roadside in upstate New York. You can see the distinctive narrow, conical growth habit of this species clearly in this photo. If you look closely, you will notice that branches are mostly horizontal: even larger lower branches do not droop much, yet upper branches are only weakly ascending. These trees have also retained nearly all their foliage the whole way to the base; this reflects the shade-tolerance of this species, that it is able to retain photosynthetic efficiency even with relatively low light levels.

Balsam fir inhabits a wide range of habitats; this one is probably towards the wetter end of where it can be found; it can also be found on mesic sites and in drier uplands.

Photographer & Copyright

© Doug Goldman

Photo Source

CC BY 4.0

Inclusion in Plant ID / Comparison Guides

This photo is featured in 3 plant ID/comparison guides:

collage of Balsam Fir and Black Spruce

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) vs. Black Spruce (Picea mariana)

Updated November 1st, 2021

Although balsam fir looks very different from black spruce when growing in shade, black spruce is frequently confused with balsam firs growing in open, sunny conditions; the species look most similar when they co-occur on rocky sites near the tree line. Both can have a narrow, conical shape, short, bluish needles, and hairy twigs, especially on new growth. They are easily distinguished by cones or close examination of needles. They also have differences in shape, as well as habitat and successional stage: balsam fir is absent from bogs and poorly-drained sites, where black spruce is common, and balsam fir occupies a later stage in forest succession in areas where both species co-occur.

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collage of Eastern Hemlock and Balsam Fir

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) vs. Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Updated July 28th, 2020

These species are easily distinguished, but are sometimes confused by people inexperienced in conifer identification, especially when comparing hemlocks to firs growing in shade, as the needle arrangement of such firs is flatter along the twig and superficially looks much like hemlock.

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collage of White Spruce and Balsam Fir

White Spruce (Picea glauca) vs. Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

Updated December 29th, 2019

Balsam fir and white spruce are sometimes confused where they overlap; balsam fir grown in sun can have a similar bluish color to its foliage and the needle shape and arrangement can look more similar than when in shade. Both can occupy late stages in forest succession and be found in similar habitats. The two species are easily told apart by a close look at their needles, by crushing and smelling the needles, by cones, and by bark.

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