Trees of the boreal forest

Fundy National Park

Generally speaking, the park's forest is a mix of red spruce, balsam fir, yellow birch, white birch and maples. It is known as the Acadian Forest. While maples contribute the most brilliant autumn colours from mid-September to mid-October, balsam fir gives a wonderful fragrance to the forests of Fundy. The forest floor is covered with carpets of moss, woodfern and bunchberry. By mid-late summer, the bright red clumps of the bunchberry fruit are very common.

Hardwood trees

Representing the southern element of the Acadian Forest and covering only 5.4% of the park are pure hardwood stands. Although common as part of the mixed forest that blankets the park, hardwood species grow in pure stands only on well-drained rocky hillsides with southern exposure. Yellow birch, the largest of Fundy's hardwoods, and white birch are the most abundant. Other species include sugar maple, red maple and beech. A unique group of plants, called spring ephemerals, grows in the hardwood forest. They bloom before the trees grow their leaves in late May. In a few short weeks, species such as spring beauty and trout lily have bloomed and disappeared underground, waiting for next year's spring rush.

Softwood trees

The coniferous forest represents the boreal element of the Acadian Forest. With the rarity of fire along the Bay of Fundy coast, spruce budworm has been the most important agent of change in the spruce-fir forest and is responsible for maintaining the forest in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Pure stands of conifer are rare in Fundy National Park, but it is there that one can appreciate the majesty of the tall red spruce, which can live 200 years or more. The park harbours some of the last pure stands of red spruce in eastern North America.


Fundy National Park protects a wide variety of plants. There are 804 species of vascular plants here. These include ferns and clubmosses, which reproduce by spores. Flowering plants such as the rare bird's-eye Primrose-found only in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick-is a cliff-dwelling plant remnant of a colder climate.

Less known are the bryophytes represented by mosses and liverworts. These small plants are often found growing on rocks and tree trunks. Many also grow on the forest floor. There are 276 species of bryophytes in Fundy National Park.

More than 400 species of lichens have been found in Fundy National Park. These small plants, that few people know by name, cover the forest floor, rocks and tree trunks. One may find as many as 30 species on a single tree! Lichen do not harm the trees they grow on, they simply use them to avoid competition from other taller plants on the ground.

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea)

The balsam fir is well known as a popular Christmas tree species. It is the main coniferous species browsed (eaten) by moose. When overbrowsed, balsam fir saplings will produce an excess of buds, distorting their usual conical shape into a thick sphere shape. Balsam fir are also the most susceptible species of tree to infestations of spruce budworm, despite the name of the insect.

How to identify:
  • Balsam fir trees average about 18 m in height, being a small to medium-sized conifer, and taper to a thin point at the top.
  • Needles are flat and opposite. The top of the needle is a dark, shiny green, while the bottom has two thin, white stripes.
  • Bark is gray, and appears smooth and waxy. It will often have blisters filled with sap, especially when the tree is young.
  • Cones are barrel shaped, and grow upright and erect. When ripe, the seeds fall off the cone, leaving the center of the cone still attached to the branch.
White birch (Betula papyrifera)

The white birch is a deciduous tree species most easily recognized by its thin, white bark that peels off into large sheets. White birch trees are browsed (eaten) frequently by moose. In response to browsing, this species will send up multiple new stems, creating a warped, stunted appearance unlike that of a healthy birch tree. White birch trees are one of the first species to regenerate in an area after a forest disturbance.

How to identify:
  • White birch trees are most easily identified by their white, paper-like bark. 
  • It is a medium-sized tree averaging 16 m in height. 
  • Leaves alternate and are described as oval-shaped or triangular-shaped, with serrated edges. 
  • Long, soft flowers called ‘catkins’ hang downwards from branches.
White spruce (Picea glauca)

The white spruce is a large coniferous tree that receives its name from the white powdery coating on its needles. This species is rarely eaten by moose, but is affected by outbreaks of spruce budworm. As a component of the Bring Back the Boreal project, park staff and volunteers have been planting white spruce seedlings to help restore forest health. Since these seedlings won’t be overbrowsed by moose, they will grow to provide important food and shelter for boreal animal species.

How to identify:
  • White spruce trees are one of the largest trees in the boreal forest, averaging 24 m in height. They commonly grow in old farm fields and other clearings. 
  • Needles are stiff, four-sided, and needle-like, and are blueish green in colour with a white powdery coating. The needles form a spiral arrangement around each twig of the tree, standing out in all directions. 
  • The bark is a smooth, light gray when the tree is young, and gradually becomes scaly and dark gray or brown as it matures. 
  • Cones are narrow and cylindrical and fall off the tree before dispersing their seeds.

Many of the key features of white spruce trees are similar to those of black spruce trees. To tell the difference between the two species, look for:

  • Colour of needles – white spruce needles have a blue tint, while black spruce needles are green. 
  • Twigs – white spruce twigs are smooth, while black spruce twigs are covered in small hairs, making them look fuzzy 
  • Shape – white spruce trees are full and conical in shape; black spruce trees are narrower with branches that droop. 
  • Cones – white spruce cones are narrow and cylindrical, whereas black spruce cones are smaller and egg-shaped. 
  • Smell – when crushed, white spruce needles smell pungent, while black spruce needles give off a sweet aroma.
Black spruce (Picea mariana)

The black spruce is one of the smaller, slow-growing trees in the boreal forest, but is able to adapt and survive in poor environments. It is also known to be a very strong tree. This species is seldom eaten by moose and spruce budworm.

How to identify:
  • Black spruce trees average at 5 m in height, as a small and narrow conifer species. 
  • Needles are stiff, four-sided, and green, forming a spiral arrangement around each twig of the tree, standing out in all directions. 
  • The bark of a black spruce tree is scaly and is dark gray or brown in colour. 
  • Cones are small and egg-shaped. 
  • They are commonly found in swamps and wet areas.

Many of the key features of black spruce trees are similar to those of white spruce trees. To tell the difference between the two species, look for:

  • Colour of needles – black spruce needles are green, while white spruce needles have a blue tint. 
  • Twigs – black spruce twigs are covered in small hairs, making them look fuzzy, while white spruce twigs are smooth 
  • Shape – black spruce trees are narrow with branches that droop, white spruce trees are full and conical in shape. 
  • Cones – black spruce cones are small and egg-shaped, whereas white spruce cones are narrow and cylindrical. 
  • Smell – when crushed, black spruce needles give off a sweet aroma, while white spruce needles smell pungent.
American mountain ash (Sorbus americana)

The American mountain ash is not a true ash tree, despite its name. It appears in the form of a small deciduous tree or shrub, and is easily distinguished by its white flowers or red berries, depending on the time of year. American mountain ash is a preferred browse species for moose, and is also favoured by many types of birds and small mammals.

How to identify:
  • American mountain ash trees average about 10 m in height, and may appear as a shrub or small tree.
  • Leaves are opposite with toothed edges, and grow on slender branches.
  • From May-June, round, flat-topped clusters of white flowers appear, which are replaced in late summer by orange or red berrylike fruits that last into the winter.
  • Bark is gray or brown in colour with a smooth texture that may develop cracks or splits as it matures.

Date modified :