Balsam Fir Abies balsamea (Linnaeus) P. MillerS1 (Highly state rare)  -  Garrett only    
Kingdom Plantae   >   Division Coniferophyta   >   Class Pinopsida   >   Order Pinales   >   Family Pinaceae   >   Genus Abies   


Balsam Fir, which is Maryland's only fir species, is native to most of eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States (Minnesota east to Maine) and south in the Appalachian Mountains to West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. According to MD DNR, Maryland has only a few Balsam Firs, found in high elevation mesic coves and outcrops.


It can be difficult to distinguish between fir and spruce. The needles provide clues: In firs, the needles are soft, flat, and cannot be rolled between your fingers, whereas in spruce, the needles are sharply pointed, prickly, square, and easy to roll between your fingers. Unlike spruce needles, which are borne on small, stalk-like, woody projections, which remain after the needles are shed, fir needles have no such projections; thus, fir branches have a smooth feel, whereas spruce branches feel rough. Needle color and length are unreliable for distinguishing fir from spruce because they can vary from tree to tree.

The cones provide another means of distinguishing fir from spruce. Spruce cones hang down, whereas in fir (and in Tamarack) the cones are upright on the branches.

Where to find:

In Maryland, Balsam Fir occurs only in Garrett County.


According to the National Forest Service, "Despite its name the Spruce Budworm Moth prefers fir over spruce; it is most likely to cause heavy damage and mortality in stands that contain mature fir, or that have a dense stocking of fir or a high proportion of fir in relation to other species. Vast budworm outbreaks in eastern North America, perhaps as many as 11 since 1704, have killed tens of millions of cubic meters (hundreds of millions of ft³ of balsam fir. Defoliation causes extensive root mortality. Evidence of budworm attack such as deformation, buried leaders, and decay can be seen 40 or more years later."

There are 3 records in the project database.

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A Balsam Fir in Canaan Valley, Tucker Co., West Virginia (7/9/2012). Balsam Fir is a rare (S1) tree in Maryland. Supposedly there is only one native grove along a creek in NE Garrett County. Planted Balsam Fir can easily be seen behind the park headquarters at New Germany State Park in Garrett County. Photo by Jim Brighton. (MBP list)

The needles of a Balsam Fir in Canaan Valley, Tucker Co., West Virginia (7/9/2012). The needles of Balsam Fir are much softer than Red Spruce which has hard prickly needles. Photo by Jim Brighton. (MBP list)

The bark of a Balsam Fir in Canaan Valley, Tucker Co., West Virginia (7/9/2012). Photo by Jim Brighton. (MBP list)

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