Picea glauca (White Spruce)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Pinaceae (Pine)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; northern upland forest
Bloom season:May
Plant height:60 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information


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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of needles and branch buds] 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.

[photo of twig and branch bud] Twigs are yellowish brown and smooth, turning gray after several seasons with the fallen needles leaving raised roughish leaf scars. 

[photo of trunk] The bark is thin and gray with flaky scales. Trunks can reach up to 36 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh).

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of cones] Fruit is a brown, oblong-elliptic cone 1¼ to 2½ inches long, hanging from the tips of twigs, with a smooth, rounded edge on the scales.


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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More photos

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?

Posted by: gary boehner - Faribault,
on: 2018-07-22 19:14:37

There is a lot near my home that has several different trees, both coniferous and deciduous. I have found a white spruce there that has a diameter of 4 feet. It is at least 150 years old. The lot is up for sale and I am afraid that they might chop this beautiful species down.

Posted by: Todd Peter - Darwin, MN
on: 2019-07-01 11:00:09

Top half died off this year. I have a stand of approx 80 nursery raised Black Hills Spruce that were planted about 10 years again. Most are around 20ft high. One tree had the top half die off this year. Are there known pests or disease that may cause this? General commentary notes the resilience of these species, so this seems out of the ordinary. A picture can be provided.

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