Spruce Trees

2016 May 21

In addition to the pines and balsam firs, the next most prominent conifers on and around our properties are the spruces. We have some big ones near the barn that I think were planted intentionally:


and smaller ones scattered around the property that came up from seed.


Spruce are superficially similar to firs, but they don’t have such a naturally regular, conical shape. The branches tend to spread more and stick out irregularly.


The needles are also different from firs. While fir needles are just kind of stuck to the branches by what looks like a little suction cup, the spruce needles grow from little woody projections on the branches.


The needles are also roughly square in cross section, stiff, and come to a sharp point, so the trees are uncomfortably poky if you touch them.


Once the trees are mature, they produce a great profusion of cones. Each cone is a couple of inches long, and when the scales pop open they spread quite a number of seeds.


These particular trees are most likely White Spruce, Picea glauca, which is our most common local species. White spruce tend to grow tall and straight, and are generally good trees for either lumber or paper pulp. While some people use them for Christmas trees, they aren’t as popular as the Balsam Firs because they (a) aren’t very shapely and symmetrical unless they’ve been kept trimmed; (b) have prickly needles that they tend to drop all over the house and that become highly flammable when they dry, and (c) smell kind of vaguely like cat urine (hence one of its common names, “cat spruce”).

They are also well-adapted to our climate. If anything, Michigan might actually be a bit warmer than they like, as we are at the extreme southern edge of their native range.

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