Picea glauca (White Spruce)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; northern upland forest|
|Plant height:||60 to 80 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, both borne on the same tree at or near the tips of one year old branches. Male strobili are oblong-elliptic, 1/3 to just over ½ inch long, initially purplish and erect, turning yellowish-brown, hanging down on a short stalk and withering away soon after releasing pollen. Female strobili are purple, erect when young, about ½ to 5/8 inch long, elliptical to barrel shaped.
Leaves and bark:
Leaves are needle-like, dark green or bluish, single in a close spiral up the branch, about 1/3 to ¾ inch long, squarish in cross section, tapered to a sharp point but not sharp to the touch. The needles can persist up to 10 years.
White Spruce is a common upland forest tree throughout much of central and northern Minnesota. While relatively slow growing, it has few or any disease or insect pests of significance and can live to be several centuries old. Similar species in its range include the native Black Spruce (Picea mariana) that inhabits low wet bogs and is much smaller; mature Black Spruce trees are 2/3 or less the height of White Spruce and both its needles and cones are not more than half the size of White Spruce. Another tall, short-needled conifer that frequently grows side-by-side with White Spruce is Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea). From a distance, both are strongly pyramidal in form, though Balsam Fir much more so, its tip a sharply needle-like spire. Up close the flat needles of Balsam readily distinguish it.
In the urban/rural home landscape White Spruce competes for identification with two non-native spruce; Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens) and Norway Spruce (Picea abies). Colorado Spruce has much stiffer and sharper needles than White Spruce, as well as much larger (4-5x) cones typically clustered around the top. Colorado Spruce is also more often a bright blueish green, a characteristic on which it is frequently selected and marketed. Norway Spruce is darker green like White Spruce, but it develops distinctive pendulous branches as it matures and it has even larger cones on its upper branches than those of Colorado Spruce. Another note is that urban planted White Spruce are more often than not a selection from the Black Hills region of South Dakota, appropriately marketed as “Black Hills” Spruce, not to be confused with our native Black Spruce that rarely, if ever, used in landscape plantings. This South Dakota selection is noted for it dense crown shape and disease and drought tolerance. Once designated as var. densata it is now considered a cultivated variety "Densata" as it is not dissimilar from other wild white spruce populations to constitute a unique biological variety.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- a young White Spruce tree
- mature White Spruce tree
- “Black Hills” White Spruce
- nursery-grown White Spruce
- upper branches
- late season female strobili/immature cones
- immature cones
- White Spruce seeds
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin, Anoka, Kanabec and Ramsey counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?