Balsam Fir vs Douglas Fir: Differences and Uses

Regarding fir trees, two names often come to the forefront – Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir. While similar in many respects, they have unique characteristics that set them apart. Understanding these differences is crucial, especially when deciding which one to choose for various purposes, such as furniture making or as a Christmas tree.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of Balsam and Douglas Firs, comparing their traits, uses, and much more. So, let’s embark on this journey of discovery, shall we?

Balsam Fir: An Overview

Let’s start with the Balsam Fir, a tree that’s as fascinating as it is beautiful. Known for its distinctive pyramid-like shape and dark-green needles, the Balsam Fir is a sight to behold. It grows in cool climates, primarily in the northeastern regions of North America.

But what makes the Balsam Fir truly stand out is its versatility. It’s not just a tree; it’s a symbol of the holiday season. Come Christmas, and you’ll find Balsam Firs adorning homes worldwide, their branches laden with twinkling lights and ornaments.

But the uses of Balsam Fir extend beyond the festive season. Its wood is lightweight yet strong, making it a popular choice for furniture, pulp, and paper products. And let’s not forget the Balsam Fir’s aromatic scent, a refreshing blend of sweetness and spice often captured in candles and essential oils.

Douglas Fir: An Overview

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Douglas Fir. This tree is a bit of a misnomer because, believe it or not, it’s not a true fir! It’s a unique species that stands tall and proud, reaching heights few other trees can match.

The Douglas Fir is a hardy tree, thriving in various climates, from the rocky mountains east to the Pacific Coast west. Its needles are a vibrant green, slightly longer than those of the Balsam Fir, and its cones are distinctive, with protruding bracts that resemble mouse tails.

Like the Balsam Fir, the Douglas Fir is a popular choice for Christmas trees. However, its wood is where it truly shines. Douglas Fir wood is incredibly strong and resilient, making it ideal for structural applications like building and construction. It’s also used in furniture, flooring, and veneer.


Regarding the scent of Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir, each tree has a unique fragrance that sets it apart. The Balsam Fir is renowned for its refreshing and crisp scent, often described as a mix of sweet and spicy. This aroma is particularly noticeable during the holiday when the tree’s scent fills homes, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.

On the other hand, the Douglas Fir has a slightly more subtle scent. It’s often described as sweet and citrusy, with a hint of earthiness. This aroma is not as strong as the Balsam Fir’s, but it’s equally pleasant and comforting.

Both trees’ essential oils are widely used in aromatherapy and perfumery thanks to their soothing and uplifting scents. Whether you prefer the spicy sweetness of Balsam Fir or the citrusy freshness of Douglas Fir, both trees offer a sensory experience that’s truly delightful.


The cost of Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir can vary significantly, influenced by factors such as growth rate, demand, and availability. Generally, Balsam Firs tend to be more affordable due to their faster growth rate and widespread availability, especially in the northeastern regions of North America.

Douglas Firs, on the other hand, is typically more expensive. Despite their slower growth rate, they are highly sought after for their superior wood quality, used extensively in construction and furniture making. This demand, coupled with their less widespread availability than Balsam Firs, often results in a higher price tag.

Uses For Furniture

When it comes to furniture making, both Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir have their unique strengths. The Balsam Fir, with its lightweight yet sturdy wood, is often used for crafting furniture that requires a balance of strength and weight. Its wood is relatively easy to work with, and its fine grain gives a smooth finish, making it a favorite among woodworkers.

On the other hand, Douglas Fir is known for its exceptional strength and durability. Its wood is heavier and harder than Balsam Fir, making it an excellent choice for furniture that must withstand heavy use. The grain of Douglas Fir is more pronounced, giving pieces a distinctive, rustic look.

However, it’s important to note that while both trees are used in furniture making, Douglas Fir is generally considered superior due to its strength and durability. But don’t count out Balsam Fir just yet! Its lightweight nature and smooth finish make it a great choice for certain furniture pieces.

Balsam Fir vs Douglas Fir: Christmas Trees

Both Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir are popular choices for Christmas trees, each bringing its unique charm to the holiday season. The Balsam Fir is a classic choice with its symmetrical shape and dark green needles. Its strong branches are perfect for hanging ornaments, and its refreshing scent fills the home with Christmas.

Douglas Fir, on the other hand, is known for its lush, full appearance and slightly longer needles. Its branches are also strong, making it a great choice for heavy ornaments. And while its scent is more subtle than the Balsam Fir’s, it still offers a pleasant, festive aroma.

Both trees perform well in needle retention, but the Douglas Fir tends to last longer. This makes it a great choice if you like to put up your tree early in the season. However, when it comes to the best Christmas tree, it depends on personal preference. Some people love the classic look and scent of a Balsam Fir, while others prefer the fullness and longevity of a Douglas Fir. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these festive firs!

Strength and Durability

When it comes to strength and durability, Douglas Fir takes the lead. Known for its exceptional structural properties, Douglas Fir is one of the strongest and most durable softwoods available. Its hardness and resistance to rot make it an excellent choice for construction and furniture making, where strength and longevity are paramount.

While not as strong or hard as Douglas Fir, Balsam Fir still offers decent durability. Its wood is lightweight yet sturdy, suitable for applications where a balance of strength and weight is required. However, compared to Douglas Fir, Balsam Fir is less rot-resistant, which means it may not last as long in certain conditions.

Douglas Fir is the way to go if you’re looking for strength and durability. But Balsam Fir could be a suitable alternative for applications where weight is a concern.


Both Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir have their merits in terms of sustainability. Balsam Fir trees grow relatively quickly and are widely available, especially in the northeastern regions of North America. This fast growth rate and responsible harvesting practices make Balsam Fir a sustainable choice.

Douglas Fir, on the other hand, grows slower but is also harvested responsibly. Despite its slower growth rate, Douglas Fir forests are well-managed to ensure sustainability. Moreover, the wood’s strength and durability mean that products made from Douglas Fir often have a longer lifespan, contributing to its overall sustainability.

Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir are softwoods, which means they grow faster than hardwoods and are generally considered more sustainable. However, it’s always important to consider the source of the wood and ensure it comes from responsibly managed forests.

Tree Identification

Identifying Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir trees can be an interesting and rewarding experience. While both are conifers with needle-like leaves, several physical characteristics can help distinguish between the two.

The Balsam Fir is known for its dark green needles, which are flat and have a distinct “balsam” scent when crushed. The needles are arranged spirally on the branch but appear in two horizontal ranks. The cones are upright and have a purplish hue when young. The bark of a Balsam Fir is smooth and gray, with resin-filled blisters that can be easily popped.

On the other hand, the Douglas Fir has slightly longer, green-blue needles that radiate in all directions from the branch. The cones are pendulous with distinctive three-pointed bracts protruding between the scales. The bark of a mature Douglas Fir is thick, rough, and grooved, with a dark brown to gray color.

Regarding the end grain, Balsam Fir has a pale white to light brown color with a uniform texture and straight grain. Douglas Fir, however, has a more reddish-brown color and a straight to slightly wavy grain.


Is Douglas Fir a good Christmas tree?

Absolutely! Douglas Fir is a popular choice for Christmas trees due to its lush, full appearance, strong branches, and pleasant scent. Its needles radiate in all directions from the branch, giving the tree a full and fluffy look that’s perfect for the holiday season.

What kind of Christmas tree lasts the longest?

Generally, Douglas Fir trees are known to last longer than most other types of Christmas trees. This is due to their excellent needle retention, which means they stay fresh and green for longer, even indoors.

Which fir tree is best for Christmas?

The “best” fir tree for Christmas can depend on personal preference. Balsam Fir is loved for its classic shape, strong branches, and refreshing scent. Douglas Fir is admired for its fullness, longevity, and sweet scent. Both make excellent Christmas trees, so the choice often comes down to personal preference.

Which is better, Balsam Fir or Fraser Fir?

Balsam Fir and Fraser Fir make excellent Christmas trees, but they have some differences. Balsam Fir has a strong, refreshing scent and dark green needles, while Fraser Fir is known for its excellent needle retention and slightly silver underside of the needles. The choice between the two often comes down to personal preference and availability in your area.


Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir are remarkable trees, each with unique characteristics. With its refreshing scent and classic shape, Balsam Fir is a beloved choice for Christmas trees and offers lightweight yet sturdy wood for furniture making. Douglas Fir, on the other hand, stands out with its strength, durability, and longevity, making it a preferred choice for construction and high-quality furniture.

However, the choice between Balsam Fir and Douglas Fir often comes down to specific needs and preferences. Whether for a festive Christmas tree, a piece of furniture, or even just for the pleasure of their scent, both trees offer something unique. Ultimately, it’s not about which tree is “better” but which tree is the best fit for you.