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12 Species of Spruce Trees and Shrubs

Members of the Genus Picea

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Spruce trees and shrubs are classified in the genus Picea under the Pinaceae family.  These conifers feature needles attached to the branch by a swollen area called a pulvinus, which allows extra flexibility and movement. This area, which resembles a peg, is left behind if a needle drops and is one key hint to its identity. In fact, you should be able to identify a spruce tree just by looking at its needles.

Other notable characteristics for identification are that unlike the fascicles of pine trees, each pulvinus only holds one spruce needle.  The pulvini are arranged in a whorl around the branch. Finally, if you were to slice straight across a needle, it would exhibit either a triangular or square shape. 

Spruce trees are monoecious. The female cone scales are more flexible than pine cone scales.

1. Bird's Nest Spruce

Picture of Bird's nest spruce
By SEWilco (Own work) [GFDL via Wikimedia Commons]

This variety of the Norway spruce forms a dwarf round shrub with an indentation on the top that makes it look like a bird's nest, inspiring the common name.

2. Black Spruce

Black spruce image
Image by Arthur Chapman via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Picea mariana
  • Other Common Names: Bog spruce, swamp spruce, shortleaf black spruce, Canadian spruce, Eastern spruce
  • Native to: Northern United States and Canada
  • USDA Zones: 2 - 5
  • Height: 30 - 65' tall

The black spruce does well in wet areas. It is one of the main hosts for the eastern dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum).

3. Brewer Spruce

Brewer spruce image
Image by Meneerke bloem via Creative Commons
  • Latin Name: Picea breweriana
  • Other Common Names: Weeping spruce
  • Native to: Northwest California and southwest Oregon
  • USDA Zones: 5 - 8
  • Height: 50 - 80' tall

The species name breweriana honors the tree's founder, William Henry Brewer. It is sometimes called the weeping spruce because of the way that the branchlets hang down.

4. Caucasian Spruce

Caucasian spruce image
Image by Ryan Somma
  • Latin Name: Picea orientalis
  • Other Common Names: Oriental spruce
  • Native to: Caucasus and Turkey
  • USDA Zones: 4 - 7
  • Height: 25 - 60' tall

The Caucasian spruce can live in a wide variety of soil types. It will need to be sheltered from winds. This tree works well as a specimen conifer.

5. Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) makes a distinctive Christmas tree with its blue needles.
Photo © Flickr user daryl_mitchell
  • Latin Name: Picea pungens. Other possible names are Picea parryana and Picea commutata.
  • Other Common Names: Blue spruce, Colorado spruce, silver spruce, pino real
  • Native to: Western and northeastern United States
  • USDA Zones: 3 - 8
  • Height: 30 - 75' tall

The Colorado blue spruce has blue needles in a range of shades. The 'Glauca' variety is a light blue. It is the state tree for Colorado and Utah.  This spruce does well in droughts, except it does need regular watering in hot areas. Some use this as a Christmas tree.

6. Dwarf Alberta Spruce

Photo of dwarf Alberta spruce
Speculos [GFDL via Wikimedia Commons]
  • Latin Name: Picea glauca 'Conica'
  • Native to: This cultivar was found in Alberta, Canada. The species comes from Canada and the northern United States
  • USDA Zones: 2 - 8
  • Height: 3 - 12' tall

This popular shrub is a variety of the white spruce that grows in a conical shape. It is a great choice for a living Christmas tree. The dwarf Alberta spruce is a common choice for creating a spiral shrub topiary.

7. Engelmann's Spruce

Englemann's spruce image
Image by JJ Harrison via Creative Commons
  • Latin Name: Picea engelmannii. Synonyms include Picea glauca var. engelmannii and Picea columbiana.
  • Other Common Names: Columbian spruce, mountain spruce, silver spruce, white spruce, pino real
  • Native to: Western United States, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada
  • USDA Zones: 3 - 7
  • Height: 30 - 100' tall.  Can reach heights of over 200' in the wild.

The Engelmann spruce was named after George Engelmann, who was a botanist and physician. It is used in the lumber industry.  These trees can live for hundreds of years.

8. Norway Spruce

Norway spruce (Picea abies) must be cut fresh and well watered if used as a Christmas tree.
Photo © National Christmas Tree Association
  • Latin Name: Picea abies. It may also be known as Picea excelsa.
  • Other Common Names: European spruce
  • Native to: Europe
  • USDA Zones: 2 - 7
  • Height: 40 - 80' tall

The Norway spruce needs soil that drains well, as it will have problems if the soil is too wet. It can be used as a Christmas tree. The wood of the Norway spruce is often used in the lumber industry.  It is also often utilized in the creation of stringed instruments because it resonates well.

9. Red Spruce

Red spruce image
Image by David W. Siu via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Picea rubens. You may also see Picea rubra, Picea australis or Picea nigra var. rubra.
  • Other Common Names: Yellow spruce, West Virginia spruce, eastern spruce, he-balsam, blue spruce
  • Native to: Eastern Canada and United States
  • USDA Zones: 3 - 6
  • Height: 60 - 80' tall

Red spruce may be planted in areas that receive shade.  It should be placed in a cool area with adequate moisture.  The name yellow spruce was inspired by the light yellow wood of the tree.

10. Serbian Spruce

Image of the Serbian spruce
Image by Vanessa Richins via Forestry Images - Bugwood.org

The Serbian spruce can tolerate some drought and shade, though it prefers medium levels of moisture in the soil. It is a good choice for urban landscapes as it has resistance to air pollution.

11. Sitka Spruce

The Sitka spruce is claimed by Alaska as its state tree
Image by born1945 via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Picea sitchensis
  • Other Common Names: Tideland spruce, coast spruce, yellow spruce, silver spruce, western spruce, Menzies' spruce
  • Native to: Southern Alaska to Northern California
  • USDA Zones: 6 - 8
  • Height: Anywhere from 50 - 160' tall in cultivation, depending on the area

The Sitka spruce is the tallest species of spruce and is the state tree of Alaska. It can be over 300' in the wild, with the largest recorded specimen reaching 318' tall. It will be shorter in cultivation, but make sure there is plenty of room in your landscape as "shorter" is still often over 100' tall.

12. White Spruce

White spruce is a Christmas tree that has good coloring and shape, and a long needle life.
Photo © Flickr user nautical2k
  • Latin Name: Picea glauca
  • Other Common Names: Canadian spruce, western white spruce, Alberta spruce, Black Hills spruce, skunk spruce, cat spruce, Alberta white spruce, Porsild spruce
  • Native to: Northern United States and Canada
  • USDA Zones: 2 - 6
  • Height: 40 - 60' tall

The white spruce is sometimes sold as a Christmas tree. One natural variety is the Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca var. densata), which is the state tree of South Dakota. It can tolerate some light shade.

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