Maine Balsam Fir Tips: A Sustainable Harvest

Uploaded by TheUniversityofMaine on 24.11.2010

Dave Fuller: Hi, I'm Dave Fuller with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension
and today we are going to talk about How to Sustainably Harvest Balsam Fir tips.
Balsam fir in Maine is a great material to work with in making wreaths and garlands and
other products. It is good because it is long lasting, it is beautiful looking, it has got
that great fragrance of the Maine woods and in the aggregate, it is worth in the millions
of dollars as a resource in Maine. So that's why we want to learn how to sustainably harvest
it so it will be there for generations to come.
So in identifying the balsam fir, which is the first step, if we use the wrong material,
the needles may not hold up as well. They won't have as good an appearance as balsam
fir. We first have white pine as long needles in bundles of five.
The next thing we have is spruce, which does look somewhat like balsam fir, but an easy
crutch to use is spiky spruce, friendly fir, because the needles are sharp and they are
more oriented around the whole twig. So you can use spruce, but it is not the preferred
Another species that looks somewhat like balsam fir is hemlock, but you can see the needles
are darker green, they are very blunt and they don't hold on to the twig at all, so
it is not very good wreath material.
And then lastly we have our balsam fir. The needles are arranged on both sides of the
twig, not down below. In full sun exposure, the needles will have a full, what they call
a bottle brush appearance to it more on the upside.
They are soft to touch. They are not prickly like a spruce. And then if you crush the needles,
you have that beautiful, beautiful fragrance that lasts a long time that smells of the
Maine woods.
Another way to identify balsam fir is the bark of the tree is smooth, it is not scaly
and you also have these little bumps, which are called pitch blisters. And if you poke
one with a stick, not your finger because it is very sticky, you will see this clear
fluid, very very sticky fluid that comes out, that smells marvelously of balsam fir, so
that's another way how to identify balsam fir.
Balsam fir grows differently. It is a soft wood. It grows differently from hard woods.
So once you pick a branch, you won't have any more sprouting here. That's it. That will
never regenerate. So what you have to do is make sure that you leave lateral branches.
These branches will then become dominant and start growing out. After three years, we can
then harvest these side branches.
So generally speaking, one would go in from your elbow to the tip of your hand, leaving
good healthy laterals. These are going to regenerate and a quick snapping motion downward.
So we leave that tip like that, it is never going to regenerate, but these two lateral
branches will then take off. You can harvest them in three years.
So we have seen now that if we harvest in a sustainable way, we will have balsam fir
which is so economically important and really an iconic wreath material, we will have it
for generations to come.