|Mature Height||Up to 100 feet|
|Best Habitat||Moist, well-drained soil and full sunlight
|Best Climate||Cool and dry|
|Uses||Canoes, furniture, medicine, gum|
Spruce trees are no strangers to fans of Christmas. The large evergreens are a holiday staple, featuring an attractive pyramid shape and stiff needles. While the trees are a top pick to bring indoors during the month of December, there are ways to enjoy the specimen year-round in your own back yard.
Appearance of the Tree
Spruce trees belong to the genus Picea and can grow up to heights that exceed 100 feet tall. The trees have a number of key characteristics that help them stand out from their coniferous cousins:
- Leaves: Spruce trees feature stiff needles which range in color from silvery-green to blue-green depending on the type of specimen. The needles often curve inward and measure about three quarters of an inch long.
- Bark: The grayish-brown bark sports a moderate thickness. It forms furrows, ridges and scales as the tree matures.
- Fruit: Light brown, slender cones with diamond shaped scales contain seeds which are transported by the wind. The cones typically fall from the tree shortly after the seeds are dispersed.
Another distinguishing characteristic of the Spruce tree is its longevity. Some types can live up to 800 years thanks to their ability to withstand extreme weather conditions.
Spruce Tree Types
There are more than three-dozen different species of Spruce trees growing throughout the world. Among the most popular are:
- Blue Spruce: The species is native to the United States and is known for its long life span and appealing shape. The slow-growing Spruce is a popular Christmas tree thanks in large part to the fact that its needles do not shed easily. Along with its excellent needle retention, the Blue Spruce is prized for its natural triangular shape.
- Red Spruce: Landscapers are particularly fond of the Red Spruce as it has the ability to prosper in a number of different environments, including rocky upland soils. The tree has longer needles and cones than most Spruces and its wood has a reddish hue.
- White Spruce: This type of Spruce is especially popular in the United States where it grows from Alaska to New England. While it shares the same shape leaves as its cousins, the wood of the White Spruce is lighter and softer. The roots of the White Spruce are pliable and sit near the soil's surface.
Where the Spruce Grows
While some types of Spruces can be found in Europe and beyond, most are centralized in North America. You can find the trees thriving in:
- New York
- New Mexico
- British Columbia
- Nova Scotia
- New Brunswick
Most Spruce specimens prefer moist, well-drained soil and full sunlight. Some can prosper on steep mountain slopes provided the soil is not too moist. Since the Spruce's root system is exceptionally shallow, excessively wet soil will cause the tree to uproot easily in extreme weather conditions.
Many people don't realize that Spruce trees retain their value well beyond the Christmas season. In fact, Blue Spruces are prized by those looking to add ornamental value to their yards throughout the year. Its symmetrical pyramidal form and blue-hued foliage make it a prime specimen for property borders.
The tree's timber can also be used to make poles and posts. The wood from the White Spruce and Red Spruce are also highly coveted:
- White Spruce: The tree's wood is often used to make mobile homes, crates, pallets and furniture. In addition, timber from the White Spruce can be shaped into canoes, musical instruments, paddles and music boxes.
- Red Spruce: The wood of the Red Spruce is straight grained and resilient. It is used for making paper, lumber, and gum. Chewing gum manufacturers extract the gum from the bark of the Red Spruce and add the raw material to create different flavors of chewing gum.
In addition, resin from the Spruce tree is often added to ointments and oils to relieve muscle tension and increase circulation.
Did you know that the Blue Spruce is the state tree of both Colorado and Utah? That's just one of the many interesting facts associated with the Spruce tree:
- The White Spruce is also known as the "Skunk Spruce" because, when crushed, its needles emit a foul odor.
- Some of the world's most expensive pianos are violins are made from Red Spruce.
- Some cultures consider the Spruce to be a sacred tree capable of scaring away evil spirits.
- In Bavaria, the Spruce tree is a symbol of life and its trunk was often used as a maypole.
- In some parts of the world, Spruce bark extracts are used to make beer.
Also, in ancient times, parts of the Norway Spruce were used to craft massive ship masts.
Spruces may appear large and virile, but they have weaknesses just like any other tree specimen. Adding to the tree's vulnerabilities are the following diseases which attack Spruces and can compromise their overall health:
- Needle Blight: While this disease is rarely fatal, it can negatively affect the tree's appearance and growth. Blight affects needles of all ages causing them to develop yellowish bands that turn eventually turn purplish-brown. In severe cases, the needles will drop prematurely.
- Root Rot: This disease is capable of killing Spruces. Symptoms include brown needles, dead branches and the appearance of mushrooms around the base of the tree. In some cases, thick fungus will form near the trunk of the tree while reddish brown pits develop on the roots.
- Cytospora Cankers: The fungal disease causes the bark to flake and form cankers. Eventually the tree's leaves and limbs will die, especially the ones located near the bottom of the tree. In addition, the cankers can start oozing blue resin.
Some Spruces can also contract leaf rust which causes the needles to turn a yellowish-orange color and erupt with tiny spores.
While Spruce trees can withstand extreme conditions, they are not indestructible. You can't simply plant the tree anywhere you please and expect it to flourish. Rather, by following these simple growing tips you can increase the chances of your tree sprucing up your property for the foreseeable future:
- Plant the Spruce in the spring or fall when the soil and soft and the temperatures are moderate.
- Do not plant a Spruce in the shade of larger trees or buildings, as it prefers full sun to thrive.
- Do not over fertilize the Spruce. If your soil is undernourished, add a little slow-releasing fertilizer during the first growing season.
- Make sure the soil is moist and well-drained. Spruces can die if they are made to sit in standing water for long periods of time.
- Add mulch to the base of the tree to retain moisture and maintain soil temperatures.
Most spruce trees feature a shallow root system and are easily toppled by strong winds. Consequently, it's a good idea to dig a deep hole in which to plant a Spruce, especially if you live in an area that experiences high winds on a regular basis.