Spruce, Norway (Picea abies)

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Norway spruce is an evergreen conifer, famous for its use as a Christmas tree.

Common name: Norway spruce

Scientific name: Picea abies
Family: Pinaceae

UK provenance: non-native

Interesting fact: the widespread use of the Norway spruce as a Christmas tree is down to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. In 1841, he introduced an old German custom of decorating a spruce tree with lights. Since then, the Norway spruce has been used as a 'Christmas tree' across Europe. 

What does Norway spruce look like? 

Overview: can grow to 40m and can live for up to 1000 years. They are tall and straight and of a triangular appearance, with a pointed crown. The young bark is a coppery grey-brown and appears smooth but is rough with papery scales. Mature trees (over 80 years old) have dark purple-brown bark, with cracks and small plates. Twigs are orange-brown, grooved and hairless.

Leaves: needle-like leaves are square-shaped and pointed, with fine white speckled lines and a rich, sweet smell.

Flowers: male flowers consist of clusters of stamens, which turn from red to yellow in spring when laden with pollen. Female flowers are red, upright and oval, and tend to form at the top of the tree.

Fruits: once pollinated by wind, female flowers turn green and enlarge to become red-brown cones with diamond-shaped, rounded scales. Seeds are released in spring.  

Look out for: long cones hang down from the tree and have overlapping scales with jagged tips.

Could be confused with: Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Norway spruce needles are diamond shaped in cross section and softer than Sitka spruce needles.

Identified in winter by: it is an evergreen tree meaning its features are present year round.

Where to find Norway spruce

Norway spruce is widespread in the UK, having been planted for forestry particularly in the lowlands in the 1800s. Native to mountainous areas of Europe, including the Pyrenees, Alps, Balkans and Carpathians, and originally from Scandinavia, Norway spruce was primarily grown for timber and became famous as the traditional 'Christmas tree'.

It is thought the Norway spruce was native to the UK in the last interglacial period, and records show it was re-introduced as early as 1548. 

Value to wildlife 

Norway spruce trees provide a habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beetles, weevils and hoverflies. Caterpillars of moths which feed on the foliage include the spruce carpet, cloaked pug, dwarf pug and barred red.

The cones are eaten by red squirrels.

Mythology and symbolism

In Greek mythology, the spruce is devoted to Artemis, goddess of the Moon. 

How we use Norway spruce

Timber is a pale cream and is strong with a straight grain and a fine texture. It is often used to make joists, rafters and flooring, as well as furniture and box making. It is also pulped to make paper, though less commonly now, as Sitka spruce is more commercially viable.

It is also grown widely and used as a decorative Christmas tree. 

It was grown for timber from the 1800s, although Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is now more commonly used for this purpose.

Threats

Norway spruce can be susceptible to green spruce aphid, as well as a variety of fungal diseases.

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