fbpx Balsam fir | The Morton Arboretum

Balsam fir

Balsam fir needles.

Balsam fir is native to the far northern parts of the United States, up into Canada.  This evergreen tree has flat, dark green needles with a strong balsam scent.  Balsam fir makes a striking figure in the landscape with its narrowly-pyramidal shape, but it does best in cooler northern climates.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Abies balsamea

All Common Names:

balsam fir, balm of Gilead

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree

Native Locale:

  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet),
  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago)

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Wet sites

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Late winter,
  • Early spring,
  • Mid spring,
  • Late spring,
  • Early summer,
  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall,
  • Late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Mounded,
  • Pyramidal

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

More Information:

Size and Form

50 to 75 feet high and 20 to 35 feet wide; relatively narrow pyramidal form.

Tree & Plant Care

Balsam firm is very cold hardy, but does not do well in hot, humid summers. 
It prefers an acid, well drained soil, but can tolerate sites that are more consistently moist.  Does poorly on dry exposed sites. 
Full sun to full shade.

Disease, pests, and problems

Insect and diseases are not common, but cankers and woolly aphids can occur.
This tree is very shallow rooted and is prone to wind throw.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the far northern parts of the United States, up into Canada.

Bark color and texture 

Smooth when young,  becoming slightly furrowed with age.
Green, maturing to red-brown.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Evergreen needles; flat, dark green, attached singly to the stem.
About one inch long with a strong balsam fragrance.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous flowers; males yellow and females red-purple.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Mature cones upright, dark purple maturing to purplish-brown; 2 to 4 inches tall.
When ripe, the individual scales of the cone fall away leaving the center stalk.

Cultivars and their differences

Jamy balsam fir (Abies balsamea 'Jamy'): A very dwarf cultivar, only one foot high by one foot wide.

Piccolo balsam fir (Abies balsamea 'Piccolo'): A dwarf cultivar (2 feet by 2 feet), with fine texture.

Tyler Blue balsam fir (Abies balsamea 'Tyler Blue'): A cultivar with blue needles; 25 feet high and 15 feet wide.

Weeping Larry balsam fir (Abies balsamea 'Weeping Larry'): A very narrow form with pendulous branches.

Location of Abies balsamea (Balsam fir) at the Arboretum