Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

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Plants of Wisconsin

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Featured Plant: Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.

Balsam fir, Canada balsam, Blister Fir

Family: Pinaceae or Pine

Abies: Latin name for silver fir

balsamea: aromatic

Balsam fir, Canada balsam, Blister Fir

 

This native aromatic conical-shaped evergreen tree usually reaches a height of  45 to 60 feet. It is found in forests in the northern half of Wisconsin and prefers well-drained, somewhat acidic, sandy loam soil.

It is a climax tree, appearing years after fire opens a forest to light, growing well in dense shade. It can be found in upland and lowland forest of all conifers or mixed with deciduous trees as well in swamps and boreal forests. It even tolerates soils of pure sand.

The 2 - 4 inch cones,  standing erect,  appear on the top-most branches during the summer months.

In the fall the cone breaks into pieces dropping  its scales and seeds.

The single blunt needles are flat, whitish below and 3/8 - 1 1/4 inch long encircling the stem at almost right angles.

 

Ethnobotany: It is a traditional favorite for Christmas trees because of its shape and aroma. It was used extensively by Naive Americans as charms in sweatbath ceremonies and as medicine to relieve the symptoms of respiration difficulties, sore throats, headache, muscle pain, sores, and colic. They also used the sap as chewing gum and the leaves as tea. The sap was used as a sealant, the young tree for poles and animal traps, and the branches as pillows and insulation in spearing tents.  It is presently used extensively as a pulp wood and in light frame construction. Squirrels and birds rely on the seeds for food and the branches for shelter in the long winter months. Deer will sometimes browse on the leaves when food is scarce.

Other facts: Blisters of resin appear on the bark of old trees, from which it gets one of its common names.  The Balsam fir is the least fire resistant of evergreen in North America, and its seeds are destroyed by fire.

Propagation: Collect the seed in the fall and then store it for a while in below freezing conditions (cold stratification) before planting. Only about 20%-50% of the seeds will germination and normally remain viable for less than a year. Seeds germinate between late May and early July.
 

Blooming Buddies include: Trees: spruce (Picea), aspen (Populus), birch (Betula). Flowers:  twinflower (Linnaea borealis L. subsp. americana ), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), starflower (Trientalis borealis subsp. borealis), creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense). Ferns: cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea),  and spinulose woodfern (Dryopteris carthusiana).

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Vascular Plants

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