How to grow Abies balsamea

Commonly known as the 'Balsam Fir' or 'Balm of Gilead', Abies balsamea is a medium-sized, evergreen tree native to North America, and extending into the Arctic regions. In its native habitat, it will be usually found growing in forests, swamps and wetland margins.

Abies balsamea was introduced to western gardens in 1696, and first described by English botanist Philip Miller (1691–1718). It is now widely used as a Christmas tree and for seasonal wreaths.

The winter buds are particularly resinous which is why it is one of the species from which Canadian balsam is obtained, hence the common names. Abies balsamea is seldom cultivated in Great Britain as it doesn't adapt well to the strongly seasonal climate and late frosts. Be that as it may, this species has given rise to the hardy, dwarf form - Abies balsamea 'Hudsonia'.

Under favourable conditions Abies balsamea will reach a height of between 14–20 metres, occasionally taller, with a narrow conic crown. The glossy, mid-green, flat needle-like leaves are between, 1.5-3 cm long and strongly scented of balsam. There is a small batch of glaucous stomata at the tip, and with 2 narrow greyish bands beneath which spreading upwards on the upper sides of the branchlets, and parted beneath. The cones are 6-10 cm long, borne on the upper sides of the branches and violet-purple when young. They ripen to brown and release the winged seeds in September.

Be aware that when planting Abies balsamea, it will require a lime-free or neutral soil, and will not tolerate alkaline or chalky soils.

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