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Balsam fir tree is the essence of Christmastime

Karen Wils photo Next to a balsam fir Christmas tree the best thing to have at this time of the year is a balsam wreath..

ESCANABA — The balsam fir tree is the very essence of Christmastime in the U.P.

The smell of fresh cut balsam is as magical as Santa and his sleigh. The deep ever green color of the branches is symbolic of Jesus and the endless joy of Christmas.

For many years, balsams have been the number one choice for Christmas trees.

The two reasons for their popularity is the fact that balsams hold their needles longer than spruce or pine. The other reason is because of the balsam fir’s awesome smell!

A lot of folks don’t know the difference between the pines, spruces and fir trees out in the Upper Michigan wilderness, but the balsam is really pretty special.

The balsam fir tree is a friendly tree with soft supple flat needles. It’s not at all picky and sharp like the needles on the spruce and pine. The balsam thrives in the cool north woods in habitat from swamps to well-drained soil.

When the winter’s first snow collects on the firs flat branches the tree transforms into a ballerina with layers of lacy, white branches. The north wind blows and the flouncy tutus disappear in a puff of white.

Wildlife loves to hide in the stands of balsam. Grouse roost in the trees thick branches. Deer play tag between the firs.

The balsam trees resin has been collected and used for many different things over the years. Native Americans used the resin for medicine, ointment, chewing gum and torch fuel. The oil of the balsam is still used today in many essential oil diffusers.

In late October the harvest of balsam branches begins. Property owners trim their trees and trails and sell the branches to forest product companies. Christmas garlands are made from many swags of balsam strung together. These green swags are often hung over streets, doorways across decks and porches.

Traditional grave blankets are also made from woven balsam braches to decorate at cemeteries.

Next to a balsam fir Christmas tree the best thing to have at this time of the year is a balsam wreath. Nothing captures the true spirit of Christmas like an old fashioned wreath.

My mother taught me how to make wreaths many years ago. It’s such a fun job, great smelling and nothing puts you into the Christmas mood like wreath-making.

Balsam wreaths go everywhere, on the door, on the fence and on the graves of loved ones.

Christmas trees come in many different varieties now days, but if you are able to pick a fir tree, I think you will have the finest and best smelling tree of all.

Our balsam fir trees across the central U.P. right now are fighting an infestation of “spruce bud worm disease.” It is sad to see our firs losing ground. So if you have some balsam in your neck of the woods, watch them fill up with snow.

The magic of Christmas is evergreen.

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Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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