Spruces have long inspired the American people. These large evergreen conifers are revered in their native woods as well as in home landscapes for their conical shape, attractive bark, and their tall straight trunks, adorned with tier upon tier of horizontal branches. Depending on the variety of spruce, the branches are covered in green to blue-green or even silver-green needles. Although most spruces are found naturally in cooler regions, these adaptable trees are planted across much of the country. As well as being vital to the lumber and paper industries, spruces also have an honored place in the memories of all who have seen them growing along mountain slopes, or who have admired a well tended spruce in a park or garden. Seven spruces are native to the United States. They are found mostly at northern latitudes or high elevations.
The Spruce's Place in History
Native Americans and early settlers alike found a great many uses for the spruce. The roots of young trees were used as cords, often lacing together canoes. Early chewing gum was made from spruce resin, and non-alcoholic spruce beer was flavored with budding leaves. Medicines were made from spruce bark and resins, and today, as in the past, the sounding boards of many a cherished piano or violin have been fashioned from spruce. In war as well as peace, spruce has served America well, with its strong, light wood being used in World War II airplanes.
Some Common Species
Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) may grow naturally in America's Rocky Mountains, but its stunning blue-green needles have also helped make it the most commonly planted Western conifer in the eastern United States. A landscape standout, blue spruce makes a fine specimen tree or focal point of a well planned grouping. In a lawn or garden setting, the tree grows from 50 to 70 feet tall with a 20 to 30-foot spread, its branches covered in blue-green needles that bristle in all directions. In its native woods, the tree assumes a majestic grandeur, growing from 90 to 135 feet tall and cloaking mountains in a somber green beauty. (Grows in hardiness zones 2 to 8.)
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is known for a grandeur all its own. This largest of the spruce — reaching more than 300 feet tall in its native Pacific Coastal range — towers in awesome beauty from Alaska to northern California. It attains its grandest proportions in the Pacific Northwest rain forests, where it can live for many centuries. But it is not for its mammoth grace alone that Sitka spruce is so revered. With the highest strength-to-weight ratio of all trees in the world, this unique spruce is important to the lumber industry. As well as producing valuable paper pulp, its wood is ideal in the construction of doors, interior trim and paneling, and furniture. It is also highly prized for making the sounding boards of musical instruments. The Sitka spruce is both a symbolic and commercially important American tree. (Grows in hardiness zones 7 to 8.)