At risk wild, W.Va. fir flourishes farm-raised

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A rare West Virginia fir variety that is thriving on Christmas tree farms across the nation is fighting for survival on its home turf in the state’s northeastern highlands.

The Canaan fir, also known as the West Virginia balsam fir, is a distinct variety of the northern balsam fir. The compact, symmetrical evergreens with soft, aromatic needles and trunks bearing nodules of sap were known as blister pines to settlers in the five scattered pockets where the firs naturally grow.

Blister Swamp, the source of the East Fork of the Greenbrier River, is one locale, as is Blister Run, a swampy creek atop Cheat Mountain. Stonecoal Run, which spills off Dolly Sods, is another site where the firs can be found, as is a section of Virginia’s Hawksbill Mountain, the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. But the place with the largest population of the fir is Tucker County’s Canaan Valley, where its potential as a commercial Christmas tree was first envisioned and tested.

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