Abies balsamea

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
PLANTAE TRACHEOPHYTA PINOPSIDA PINALES PINACEAE

Scientific Name: Abies balsamea
Species Authority: (L.) Mill.
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Balsam Fir, Canadian Fir
French Sapin balsamier
Synonym(s):
Pinus balsamea L.
Taxonomic Notes: Two varieties are recognized for this species: the typical variety and var. phanerolepis. This second taxon has been considered to be of hybrid origin, with putative parents Abies balsamea and Abies fraseri, mainly because of some intermediacy observed in the characters of the seed cone (bracts). Several sources mention the occurrence of trees of A. balsamea bearing seed cones with exserted bracts from maritime parts of eastern Canada and New England (USA). Whether these belong to the var. phanerolepis is unclear; the only areas where such forms are predominant, forming consistent populations, are in the Appalachian Mountains in the southernmost parts of the range of the species, i.e. in Virginia and West Virginia. Its distribution and the size of its populations are uncertain.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2011-03-03
Assessor(s): Farjon, A.
Reviewer(s): Thomas, P. & Stritch, L.
Justification:
This is the most wide-spread species of Abies in North America. It is a component of the great boreal forest of Canada, a dynamic ecosystem that is destroyed locally by natural causes but regenerates continuously. The species, and its typical variety, are assessed as Least Concern.
 
Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. var. phanerolepis Fernald is assessed as Data Deficient. The subpopulations of this variety are undoubtedly relatively small and scattered (fragmented) but there is insufficient information about their number, extent of occurrence (EOO) and area of occupancy (AOO) for a credible assessment to be made. Another problem is identity and several reports and specimen databases of herbaria list occurrences in Canada (e.g. Nova Scotia at the Harvard Herbaria) which are likely to be just forms of A. balsamea var. balsamea with (slightly) exserted bracts.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Recorded from Canada, North Central and E USA: south to Virginia. The extent of occurrence and area of occupancy are well beyond 20,000 km2 and 2,000 km2 respectively.
Countries:
Native:
Canada (Alberta, Labrador, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland I, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward I., Qu├ębec, Saskatchewan); United States (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Very common.
Population Trend: Stable

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Abies balsamea occurs from lowland plains to upland hills and mountains in the vast Boreal forest of North America, from sea level to 1,200 m a.s.l. in West Virginia, with an isolated station on Mt. Washington (NH) at ca. 1,900 m. It is most common on usually podzolized moderately acid soils in silt or sand. In some areas it may also grow on wet, peaty soil. The climate is cold continental in the interior, cool maritime in the eastern part of the range, with precipitation between 250 and 1,250 mm and very cold winters. The growing season ranges from 80 days in the interior of Canada to 180 days in the Appalachian Mountains. It is a constituent of coniferous forests with Picea spp., Pinus strobus, Tsuga canadensis and sometimes Pinus banksiana, or it grows mixed with broad-leaved trees such as Populus tremuloides, Betula spp. and, further south, Acer spp., Fagus grandifolia and Betula alleghaniensis. Taxus canadensis is the most common conifer shrub in these mixed forests.
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Balsam Fir is an economically important conifer. Its wood, although of modest size, is used in light-frame construction and for pulpwood. It is also popular as a Christmas tree and is one of the top three species grown for this purpose in E North America. The fragrant needles are partly responsible for this popularity, they are also used to stuff pillows sold as souvenirs in New England. Canada balsam, the aromatic and soft terpenoid resin collected from blisters in the bark, is especially important in Quebec. Its medicinal properties were known to Native Americans, who used it as an antiseptic wound dressing as well as internally for various ills. Lewis and Clark had it in their medicine box on their famous overland expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-05. In modern Western society its medicinal use has been replaced by other salves; the resin is now used to seal microscopic glass slides with biological preparates. In horticulture, Balsam Fir is less valued; this fir is apparently short lived when planted in gardens and only a few dwarf cultivars are known.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): No specific threats have been identified for this species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species occurs in many protected areas.

Bibliography [top]

Burns, R.M. and Honkala, B.H. 1990. Silvics of North America. USDA, Forest Service, Washington, DC.

Farjon, A. 2010. Conifer Database (June 2008) In Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2010 Annual Checklist (Bisby F.A., Roskov Y.R., Orrell T.M., Nicolson D., Paglinawan L.E., Bailly N., Kirk P.M., Bourgoin T., Baillargeon G., eds). Reading, UK. Available at: http://www.catalogueoflife.org/.

Farjon, A. 2010. A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.1). Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 12 June 2013).


Citation: Farjon, A. 2013. Abies balsamea. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 22 December 2014.
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