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Picea abies.jpg
Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
Scientific classification

About 35; see text.

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This article is about the tree. For other uses, see Spruce (disambiguation).
Picea abies.jpg
Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
Scientific classification

About 35; see text.

A spruce is a tree of the genus Picea /pˈsə/,[1] a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the Family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal (taiga) regions of the earth. Spruces are large trees, from 20–60 metres (66–197 ft) tall when mature, and can be distinguished by their whorled branches and conical form. The needles, or leaves, of spruce trees are attached singly to the branches in a spiral fashion, each needle on a small peg-like structure called a pulvinus. The needles are shed when 4–10 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained pulvinus (an easy means of distinguishing them from other similar genera, where the branches are fairly smooth).

Spruces are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species; see list of Lepidoptera that feed on spruces. They are also used by the larvae of gall adelgids (Adelges species).

In the mountains of western Sweden scientists have found a Norway Spruce tree, nicknamed Old Tjikko, which by reproducing through layering has reached an age of 9,550 years and is claimed to be the world's oldest known living tree.[2]


DNA analyses[3][4] have shown that traditional classifications based on the morphology of needle and cone are artificial. A recent study[3] found that P. breweriana had a basal position, followed by P. sitchensis, and the other species were further divided into three clades, suggesting that Picea originated in North America.


There are thirty-five named species of spruce in the world.

P. glauca sapling, Kluane National Park, Canada
Immature P. mariana cones, Ouimet Canyon, Ontario, Canada
P. pungens cone and foliage

Basal species:

Basal species



P. abies wood

Spruce is useful as a building wood, commonly referred to by several different names including North American timber, SPF (spruce, pine, fir) and whitewood. Spruce wood is used for many purposes, ranging from general construction work and crates to highly specialised uses in wooden aircraft. The Wright brothers' first aircraft, the Flyer, was built of spruce.[5]

Because this species has no insect or decay resistance qualities after logging, it is generally recommended for construction purposes as indoor use only (ex. indoor drywall framing). Spruce wood, when left outside cannot be expected to last more than 12–18 months depending on the type of climate it is exposed to.


Spruce is one of the most important woods for paper uses, as it has long wood fibres which bind together to make strong paper. The fibres are thin walled and collapse to thin bands upon drying. Spruces are commonly used in mechanical pulping as they are easily bleached. Together with northern pines, northern spruces are commonly used to make NBSK. Spruces are cultivated over vast areas as pulpwood.

Food and medicine[edit]

Spruce (Picea mariana) essential oil in a clear glass vial

The fresh shoots of many spruces and pines are a natural source of vitamin C.[6] Captain Cook made alcoholic sugar-based spruce beer during his sea voyages in order to prevent scurvy in his crew.[7][8] The leaves and branches, or the essential oils, can be used to brew spruce beer.

The tips from the needles can be used to make spruce tip syrup [clarification needed]. In survival situations spruce needles can be directly ingested or boiled into a tea.[9] This replaces large amounts of vitamin C. Also, water is stored in a spruce's needles, providing an alternative means of hydration [clarification needed]. Spruce can be used as a preventive measure for scurvy in an environment where meat is the only prominent food source [clarification needed].


Spruce is the standard material used in soundboards for many musical instruments, including guitars, mandolins, cellos, violins, and the soundboard at the heart of a piano and the harp. Wood used for this purpose is referred to as tonewood.

Spruce, along with Cedar, is often used for the soundboard/top of an acoustic guitar. The main types of spruce used for this purpose are: Sitka, Engelmann, Adirondack and European spruce.

Other uses[edit]

The resin was used in the manufacture of pitch in the past (before the use of petrochemicals); the scientific name Picea is generally thought to be derived from Latin pix, pitch (though other etymologies have been suggested).

Native Americans in North America use the thin, pliable roots of some species for weaving baskets and for sewing together pieces of birch bark for canoes. See also Kiidk'yaas for an unusual golden Sitka Spruce sacred to the Haida people.

Spruces are also popular ornamental trees in horticulture, admired for their evergreen, symmetrical narrow-conic growth habit. For the same reason, some (particularly Picea abies and P. omorika) are also extensively used as Christmas trees.

Spruce branches are also used at Aintree racecourse, Liverpool, to build several of the fences on the Grand National course. It is also used to make sculptures and Christmas trees.


Picea used in coat-of-arms of Kuhmo, Finland

The word "spruce" entered the English language from Old French Pruce, the name of Prussia. Spruce was a generic term for commodities brought to England by Hanseatic merchants and the tree was believed to have come from Prussia.[10]

Comparison Chart[edit]

This is a Spruce Comparison Chart to help identification, ordered by Needle Length. It is drawn from Wikipedia Pages ('wiki' columns) and the needle lengths given in Collins Tree Guide ("CTG") (Paperback 2006 ISBN 978-0-00-720771-8) which differ slightly from wiki pages but CTG relates to Britain/N Europe.

LatinNeedle Len mm(Wiki)Cone Len cm(Wiki) Len x Width closed/open cmEnglishPage CTG
Picea orientalis6-126-875-9 x 1.5Oriental Spruce,Caucasian Spruce108-1
Picea maximowiczii10-137Maximowicz Spruce108-1b
Picea mariana156-152-3.51.5-4 x 1-2Black Spruce104-1
Picea glehnii10-156Sakhalin Spruce,Glehn's Spruce108-2b
Picea jezoensis var. hondoensis155Hondo Spruce110-2
Picea purpurea6-155Purple Spruce110-1b
Picea rubens1512-1553-5Red Spruce104-2
Picea likiangensis1612Likiang Spruce110-1
Picea glauca10-1612-2063-7 x 1.5/2.5White Spruce114-3
Picea wilsonii168Wilson's Spruce106-1
Picea asperata10-1810-25126-15 x 2-3Dragon Spruce112-3
Picea alcoquiana1812Alcock's Spruce108-2
Picea koyamae188-16104-9 x 2Koyama's Spruce104-3
Picea torano201212 x 5Tiger-Tail Spruce112-2
Picea pungens f. glauca20301210Blue Colorado Spruce114-1
Picea brachytyla20Sargent's Spruce110-3
Picea engelmannii f. glauca20304-8 x 1.5/3Blue Engelmann Spruce114-2
Picea jezoensis15-204-7 x 2/3Jezo Spruce,Jezo Spruce, Yezo Spruce
Picea koraiensis12-224-8 x 2Korean Spruce
Picea omorika2210-2064-7Serbian Spruce106-3
Picea chihuahuana17-237-12 x 3/4-5Chihuahua Spruce
Picea alpestris15-2512-24209-17Norway Spruce,Alpine Spruce102-1b
Picea spinulosa2517-327-116-12 x 2Sikkim Spruce112-1
Picea obovata15-2510-205-115-10 x 1.5-2Siberian Spruce102-2
Picea abies15-2512-24209-17Norway Spruce,European Spruce102-1
Picea meyeri13-257-11 x 3Meyer's Spruce
Picea sitchensis3015-25106-10 x 2/3Sitka Spruce106-2
Picea breweriana3015-35118-15 x 2/3-4Brewer Spruce, Brewer's Spruce,Weeping Spruce, Brewer's Weeping Spruce100-2
Picea engelmannii15-304-8 x 1.5/3Engelmann Spruce,White Spruce,Mountain Spruce, Silver Spruce
Picea pungens3010Colorado Spruce, Blue Spruce, Colorado Blue Spruce, Green Spruce White Spruce
Picea martinezii23-358-16 x 3/6Martinez Spruce
Picea schrenkiana3515-35146-12 x 2/2.5-3.5Schrenk's Spruce, Asian Spruce100-1b
Picea smithiana4030-50149-16 x 3/5-6Morinda Spruce,Morinda Spruce, West Himalayan Spruce100-1
Picea glauca var. porsildiiAlaska White Spruce
Picea bicolorAlcock's Spruce
Picea farreriBurmese Spruce
Picea x lutziiLutz's Spruce
Picea glauca var. albertianaAlberta White Spruce
Picea glauca var. densataBlack Hills White Spruce
Picea glauca var. glaucaWhite Spruce,Eastern White Spruce
Picea neoveitchiiVeitch's Spruce
Picea polita : see Picea toranoTiger-Tail Spruce
Picea montigenaDragon Spruce
Picea morrisonicolaYushan Spruce


  1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  2. ^ Swedish Spruce Is World's Oldest Tree: Scientific American Podcast
  3. ^ a b Jin-Hua Ran, Xiao-Xin Wei, Xiao-Quan Wang (2006). "Molecular phylogeny and biogeography of Picea (Pinaceae): implications for phylogeographical studies using cytoplasmic haplotypes" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 41 (2): 405–419. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.05.039. PMID 16839785. 
  4. ^ Aðalsteinn Sigurgeirsson & Alfred E. Szmidt (1993). "Phylogenetic and biogeographic implications of chloroplast DNA variation in Picea". Nordic Journal of Botany 13 (3): 233–246. doi:10.1111/j.1756-1051.1993.tb00043.x. 
  5. ^ "Milestones of Flight - 1903 Wright Flyer" - Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
  6. ^ "Tree Book - Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)". British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Retrieved July 29, 2006. 
  7. ^ Crellin, J. K. (2004). A social history of medicines in the twentieth century: to be taken three times a day. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press. p. 39. ISBN 0789018446. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  8. ^ Stubbs, Brett J. (June 2003). "Captain Cook's beer: the antiscorbutic use of malt and beer in late 18th century sea voyages". Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition (apjcn.nhri.org.tw) 12 (2): 129–137. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  9. ^ The healing trees / Spruce
  10. ^ Harper, Douglas. spruce. Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 8 May 2010.

External links[edit]