Fir Tree

2016 April 16

This tall tree with a symmetrical top is a good landmark in our back yard, as it stands right in the middle where it is clearly visible from all the places that are out of sight of the house. It stands probably 35 feet tall, and has no other similar trees close to it. I took this picture on March 12, 2016, but being an evergreen conifer it looks pretty much the same all year.


The bark is fairly smooth.


So, there are three general classes of evergreen tree that we have in our yard: pines, firs, and spruces. Pines have long needles that grow in bundles, while spruce and firs both have short needles that grow singly. So, this isn’t a pine – it is either a fir or a spruce.


The buds at the ends of the branches are going to become the new growth. The needles are quite stiff, and somewhat flattened in cross section. The needles also appear to attach directly to the branch, which is a trait of fir trees (as opposed to spruce trees, which have the needles attached to raised bumps on the branch). So, I think this is a fir [1].


There are a lot of smaller specimens, like this little 4-footer, that were evidently seeded by the big one.

The most common native fir tree is Balsam Fir, Abies balsamea, so I expect that’s what this one is. They do well in our local climate, as they like cool, moist weather.

Balsam Firs are good lumber trees, because they grow tall and straight, but what they are really in demand for is christmas trees. Both because they are pretty, and because they smell nice.

However, I’m not sure I really recommend these, or any other conifer, as an ornamental tree in a yard. Conifer needles make an acidic mulch underneath the tree that kills the grass, and the branches spread enough near the ground that they have to be pruned pretty aggressively if you want to be able to walk under them. Plus they drop sticky little pitch balls all over everything.

[1] I had originally thought that this was a spruce tree, but was bothered by the fact that our native spruce almost always look kind of ragged, not nicely symmetrical like this. Balsam Fir, on the other hand, is one of the very symmetrical trees that people like for Christmas trees. Looking at the needles more closely pretty much clinched it as a fir tree. We do have a lot of spruce around the property, but this doesn’t appear to be one of them.

2 Responses
  1. Carole permalink
    April 16, 2016

    Our local recycling center gives away Christmas tree mulch each year. Our soil here in north Florida is acidic anyway. The blueberries, azaleas, and gardenias appreciate it. We don’t get any lives trees like yours, lovely.

  2. Sandy E permalink
    April 17, 2016

    Balsam firs also have blisters on the bark. If you break one open it has a thick sap in it that smells nice and tastes bad. (I didn’t taste it, but back in college I was with a group and one guy was dared to eat a spoonful of it. A plastic spoon was then filled by popping blisters onto it. He stuck it in his mouth and proceeded about like you would expect: making horrible faces and spitting.)

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