wpe5.jpg (2127 bytes)U.P. TREE  IDENTIFICATION  KEY
from Michigan State University Extension

FLAT-NEEDLED CONIFERS
Balsam Fir, Eastern Hemlock, and Canada Yew
Fraser Fir, White Fir, and Douglas-fir
Families Pinaceae and Taxaceae

BFIR-EHEM.jpg (73109 bytes)These three species share distinctly flat, single needles.  In contrast with spruces, needles usually grow from the twig on opposite sides of the branch, rendering a "flattened" appearance.  Hemlock needles are attached to the twig with a small stem.  Fir has no stem, but the longer needles are attached by what might look like tiny suction cups.  Both fir and hemlock have white lines on the underside of the needles.  Yew does not.  Yew is an understory shrub and does not develop into a tree in the U.P.  Balsam fir and hemlock are members of the Pinaceae family.  The Pinaceae is a family of the northern hemisphere.  There are 9 genera and about 210 species.  The genera Abies (firs), Tsuga (hemlock), and Pseudotsuga (Douglas-fir) are shown on this page.  Other U.P. genera are Pinus (pines), Larix (tamarack), and Picea (spruces).  The family Taxaceae, the yews, is a small family with only 3 genera and 13 species.  Two genera are located in North America and the third in New Caledonia in the South Pacific.  Taxus is the largest genus with one representative in the U.P. 


Fir Balsam.jpg (41479 bytes)  BALSAM FIR (Abies balsamea)
 
Other Names:   Balsam, Canada Balsam, Eastern Fir
  Key ID Features:  Needles, Crown Form, Pitch Blisters

BFIR-leaf.jpg (63919 bytes)BFIR-cones.jpg (94010 bytes)BFIR-bark.jpg (48793 bytes)BFIR-form.jpg (41754 bytes)BFIRseed.jpg (58881 bytes)EHEMBFIRstemmies.jpg (32967 bytes)
Balsam fir NEEDLES are about 3/4 to 1-1/4 inches long with two white stripes running down the underside of each needle.  Balsam fir SCENT is most commonly associated with Christmas.  The CONES are rarely seen, as they grow at the top of the tree and disintegrate scale-by-scale.  The cones are about 2-4 inches long, stand erect, and are very pitchy.  BARK is mostly smooth and steely gray.  On healthier trees, PITCH POCKETS are present.  The pockets look like blisters, sometimes an inch across.  When pinched, they shoot out very sticky pitch.  CROWNS on mature trees are shaped like steep church spires, a distinctive feature that can be seen at a distance.  Balsam fir will grow on a variety of wetland and upland SITES.  Common ASSOCIATES include spruce and aspen.  Common pests:
spruce budworm, balsam woolly adelgid, Lirula, red heart, drought, road salt


Hemlock.jpg (42322 bytes)  EASTERN HEMLOCK   (Tsuga canadensis)
 
Other Names:   Hemlock Spruce, Canada Hemlock
  Key ID Features:  Needles, Cones, Bark

EHEM-foliage.jpg (110635 bytes)EHEM-bark2.jpg (94197 bytes)EHEM-leaf.jpg (64717 bytes)EHEMBFIRstemmies.jpg (32967 bytes)EHEMcones.jpg (41296 bytes)
Hemlock NEEDLES are about a half-inch long, shorter than balsam fir.  The small stems that hold the needles onto the twigs are uniquely hemlock.  The small, papery CONES are only about 3/4 of an inch long.  Except in small trees, the BARK is thick, corky, and heavily ridged.  It sometimes looks somewhat orange, but is usually a medium brown color.  Years ago, hemlock bark was peeled for the tannin that was used in treating animal hides.  Woodpeckers called sapsuckers frequently leave rows of peck-holes to provide sap for their diet.  Hemlock grows to average HEIGHTS of 60 to 100 feet, but can reach DIAMETERS of up to four feet.  Hemlock is an UPLAND SPECIES that often occurs in ASSOCIATION with northern hardwoods, usually in cooler drains and north slopes.  Common pests: hemlock borer, hemlock woolly adelgid, sapsuckers


CANADA YEW  (Taxus canadensis)
Other Names:  Ground Hemlock
Key ID Features:  Needles, Berries, Understory Habit

YEW-leaves.jpg (88336 bytes)YEW-habitat.jpg (101769 bytes)

Although yew is not a tree and rarely grows taller than six feet, it can be confused with regeneration of balsam fir and hemlock.  The NEEDLES are flat, half-inch to an inch long, but have no white lines on the undersides.  The tips are sharply pointed, where the fir and hemlock tend to be rounded.  Yew will often form straggly THICKETS in the understory of northern hardwood stands.   The red berry-like FRUITS are about a 1/4-inch in size, each containing a pit.


OTHER FIRS 

Fraser Fir  (Abies fraseri)

FFIR-leaf.jpg (36920 bytes)FFIR-cone.jpg (35988 bytes)FFIR-xmas.jpg (58990 bytes)

 

 

 

A native of the Appalachian Mountains, it is widely planted as a Christmas tree.

 

White Fir  (Abies concolor)

WFIR-leaf.jpg (45256 bytes)WFIR-xmas.jpg (62811 bytes)WFIR-leaf2.jpg (33214 bytes)

 

 

 

A native of the Rocky Mountains, it is used as an ornamental and sometimes planted as a Christmas tree.

 

Douglas-fir  (Pseudotsuga menziezii)

DOUG-leaf.jpg (85776 bytes)DOUG-cones.jpg (59644 bytes)DOUG-bark.jpg (88368 bytes)DOUG-form.jpg (101680 bytes)
Not a true fir, Douglas-fir is a native of the Rocky Mountains. It, too, has been planted as an ornamental and for Christmas trees.  It does not usually grow well in the U.P. due to the cold winters.  The CONES have long, forked, papery "tongues" that stick out from in between the cone scales.  The NEEDLES are not flat but soft and otherwise similar to firs and hemlocks.


Click HERE to return to the Conifer Key.
Click HERE to return to the home page.

A note about the images on this website, click here.

This site created and maintained by Bill Cook, MSU Extension Forester for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.   Editing and modification is ongoing.  Submit suggestions, questions, and corrections to cookwi@msu.edu or call 906-786-1575. 

 

 

This site is hosted by School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science
at Michigan Technological University.

Michigan Tech