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Trees & Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

White spruce

Common Name
White Spruce (Canadian Spruce, Skunk Spruce)

 

Scientific Name
Picea glauca (Moench) Voss
formerly Picea canadensis

 

Plant Family
Pine (Pinaceae)

Garden Location
Woodland

 

Prime Season
Early Spring flowering

 

 

White Spruce is an evergreen with rows of horizontal, slightly drooping branches, a straight trunk, growing 40 to 100 feet in height.

Bark is gray to brown, thin, smooth becoming scaly with age. Twigs are orangish-brown, sometimes paler, slender, without hair. Buds are orange-brown.

Leaves: The 3/4 inch needles are stiff with sharp points, 4-angled, as thick as wide (not flattened), single on all sides of the twig, but mainly on the upper side of the twig and attached with peg-like bases. Each has a single white stomatic band. The color is blue-green with the white stomatic band, and when crushed produce a skunk-like odor, hence the alternate common name of 'skunk spruce'.

Flowers: The tree is monoecious, that is, male and female flowers are separate. Male flowers are reddish at first but turn yellow when in the pollen stage. The female flowers are purple forming oblong-cylindric light brown cones, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches long that hang from the upper branches. These are soft and flexible and have fan shaped scales with rounded smooth margins and mature in late summer.

Seeds form 2 to 3 months after pollination, are triangular and attached to the base of the scale fan. Trees can begin producing seed at 4 years of age. Seeds are dispersed by wind and are viable for only 1 to 2 years. Cones may remain on the tree for 1 to 2 years.

 

Habitat: White Spruce is a long-lived climax forest tree forming extensive stands. It is shallow rooted but may develop a taproot. Needles may appear to be grayish as they have a waxy coating.

Names: The genus name Picea is the classical Latin name for the 'Pine' but Linnaeus assigned it to Spruces. The species name glauca, is from the Greek and means 'gray' or 'bluish-green' referring to the leaf color. The author name for the plant description originally was ‘Moench’ who was Conrad Moench, (1744-1805), German botanist, Professor of Botany at Marburg, author of Methodus Plantas hirti botanici et agri Marburgensis, and who named the genus Echinacea. His work was amended by ‘Voss’, who is Andreas Voss (1857-1924) German botanist and authority on conifers.

Comparisons: Norway Spruce, Picea abies. Black Spruce, Picea mariana.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

White Spruce treeWhite Spruce BarkWhite Spruce Male flower

Above: A young White Spruce. The bark of a mature tree becomes scaly with age. Male flowers are red at first before elongating.

Below: The female flowers first form purplish-red cone like structures which then turn green and then brown at maturity as seen below. Male flowers are upright, reddish at first (photo above) but turn yellow and elongate when in the pollen stage. They then wither and fall away.

White Spruce female flowersWhite Spruce male catkinsWhite spruce male flowersWhite Spruce Green cone

Below: The mature cones are oblong-cylindric, light brown, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches long that hang from the upper branches. These are soft and flexible and have fan shaped scales with rounded smooth margins and mature in late summer.

White Spruce mature conesWhite Spruce cones

Below: The 3/4 inch needles are stiff with sharp points, 4-angled, as thick as wide (not flattened) (1st photo below), single on all sides of the twig, but mainly on the upper side of the twig and attached with peg-like bases (below 2nd photo) and the needles have a white stomatic band.

White Spruce needlesWhite Spruce needle pegs

Notes:

Notes: White Spruce is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler first introduced the tree in May 1909 with plants from the Park Board Nursery. She planted more in 1910 '11, and '15. At that time the tree was generally classified as Picea canadensis, which name is now merged into P. glauca. Martha Crone planted additional trees in 1933, '48, and '49. White Spruce is tree of the northern latitudes, found in all of Canada and in the US in the northern tier of states from Idaho eastward to New England, and on the east coast south to New Jersey. Within Minnesota it is found in the northern part of the state, south as far as Otter Tail, Morrison, and Anoka Counties and planted ornamentally in others.

Uses: White Spruce wood is straight-grained, light and generally harvested for general construction lumber and for pulpwood. The tree makes a good ornamental landscape tree and also shelter belts. The wood is also valuable for sounding boards in musical instruments.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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