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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Fraser Fir

Fraser Fir

(Abiesftaseri (Pursh.) Poir)

  Fraser fir, also known as mountain balsam, southern balsam and she-balsam, is found on a few of our highest mountains. It is frequently found with red spruce, from which it easily can be distinguished by its cones and leaves. It grows on moist, cool slopes at elevations of4,000 to 6,700 feet.

The leaves are flat, linear, 1/2 to 1 inches long, with the point rounded and often notched. The leaves are dark green and shiny above and silvery white beneath. The fruit is an upright purple cone, 2 to 2 1/2 inches long with yellow-green bracts, or modified leaf that usually is part of a flower.

The cone bracts are one of the main differences between Fraser fir and balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.). The bracts of Fraser fir are longer than the scales, thus exposing the tips of the bracts, which curl downward. Bracts of balsam fir cones are shorter than the scales and therefore are hidden.

The shape of the cone scales also is somewhat different. The seeds have wide wings, and when ripe, they fall together with the scales and bracts of the cone, leaving the hard central axis standing upright on the twig.

The bark on the younger trees is pale gray, smooth, thin and prominently marked by "blisters" that are filled with resin or balsam. Branches are produced regularly in whorls, giving the tree a pointed pyramid shape, which it retains until old age.

Fraser fir is a medium-sized tree, 40 to 70 feet high and one to more than two feet in diameter. The wood is light, soft, not strong and coarse-grained. It is grown extensively for Christmas trees in North Carolina, where it is ranked as the number one Christmas tree by the Christmas tree industry.

An exotic insect, the balsam wooly adelgid (introduced into New England in 1908) was found in Fraser fir stands in 1963. Infestation, which eventually kills the tree, spreads rapidly from peak to peak. It now threatens the existence of the species in its natural state.
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