Sunday, April 22, 2012

Balsam Fir

As a youth I was always intrigued by the Balsam Fir Tree [Abies balsamea]. The bark of this tree typically produces blisters containing an oily gum. Back in the 60's we often had to entertain ourselves through bouts of boredom as there was very little in the way of electronic gadgets then. So as kids one of the activities we did was break a small twig, poke one end of it into the gum blister and then place the twig in the water of a stream or ditch. The twig would then be propelled by the change in surface tension on the water which was sort of entertaining and even mystifying. This was admittedly only a brief diversion, since we with short attention spans then probably had to run off and pursue imaginary forest spirits, or play hide-and-go-seek or something.

Our woodlot has a very limited diversity of trees dominated probably by white spruce which was planted in the abandoned fields and white cedar and ash which naturally regenerated everywhere else it seems. To add to the mix I was advised by a colleague woodlot owner that his property is over run by Balsam Fir so I offered to relieve him of some of the seedlings. I since planted 95 Balsam firs from that event.

This spring I have also ordered and planted Balsam firs, Eastern Hemlocks and Red Maples bought from the Ferguson Forest Centre. All three species are virtually nonexistent here.

There is an excellent website that gives pretty detailed information on tree species of Norther Ontario which is:

Some of these northern species are also common here and I cut and pasted a portion of the data on Balsam firs below.
  • Soils mostly acid, though tolerating a wide range of soil acidity, on textures from heavy clay to rocky soils, underlain by a variety of materials, including gneiss, schist, slate, sandstone, and limestone. Most common on cool, medium to wet sites with soil pH of 5.1-6.0.
  • Late successional or climax species. Replaced after fire by pioneering hardwoods and conifers, such as Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), and Black Spruce (Picea mariana), it is generally absent for the first few postfire decades.
  • Shade tolerant with less demanding seedbed requirements than many associates, it readily establishes under a canopy of hardwoods and conifers. Usually common in understory beneath pines, aspen, and paper birch. In the continued absence of fire, may assume dominance as the canopy of the pioneering trees begins to die off.
  • Subject to windthrow, especially on shallow wet soils.

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