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Economic Uses Of Firs

The most important use of true firs is for the production of pulp for the manufacturing of paper. All of the abundant firs are used in this way in North America, especially balsam fir and white fir.

True firs are used to manufacture a rough lumber, suitable for framing buildings, making crates, manufacturing plywood, and other purposes that do not require a fine finish. The Douglas fir is an important species for the manufacturing of a higher-grade lumber.

Canada balsam is a viscid, yellowish turpentine that is secreted by balsam fir, and can be collected from the resinous blisters on the stems of these trees. Canada balsam is now a minor economic product, but it used to be important as a clear-drying, mounting fixative for microscope slides, and as a cement for optical lenses. Oregon balsam, collected from Douglas fir, was similarly used.

Some species of firs are grown as ornamental trees around homes and in public parks. White fir, grand fir, and Douglas fir are native species commonly used in this way. The European white fir (Abies alba) and Himalayan silver fir (A. spectabilis) are also sometimes cultivated as ornamentals in North America.

Firs are highly desirable for use as Christmas trees, and in some areas they are grown on plantations established for this purpose. They can be pruned to develop a thick canopy with a pleasing shape, and firs retain their foliage for a rather long time, even inside dry homes during the winter.

See also Pines.



Brockman, C.F. Trees of North America. New York: Golden Press, 1968.

Fowells, H.A. Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Agriculture, 1965.

Hosie, R.C. Native Trees of Canada. Ottawa: Canada Communications Group, 1985.

Judd, Walter S., Christopher Campbell, Elizabeth A. Kellogg, Michael J. Donoghue, and Peter Stevens. Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. 2nd ed. with CD-ROM. Suderland, MD: Sinauer, 2002.

Petrides, G.A. A Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1986.

Van Gelderen, D.M., and J.R.P. Van Hoey Smith. Conifers. Eugene, OR: Timber Press, 1989.

Bill Freedman


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—This refers to the conifer-dominated forest that occurs in the sub-Arctic, and gives way to tundra at more northern latitudes.


—A stunted, depressed growth form that some conifers develop above the tree-line on mountains, in the arctic, and sometimes along windy, oceanic coasts. Krummholtz trees are extremely slow-growing, and can be quite old, even though they are small in diameter and less than 3 ft (1 m) tall.


—A conifer-dominated forest occurring below the alpine tundra on high mountains. Montane forest resembles boreal forest, but is affected by climate changes associated with altitude, rather than latitude.

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