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White Spruce
Picea glauca (Moench) Voss

White spruce is a medium-sized conifer found in northeastern United States and throughout Canada. It is the state tree of South Dakota. White spruce has a cone-shaped crown, and when grown in the open develops a conical crown which extends nearly to the ground. This habit along with the spreading branches give it a nice appearance for use as an ornamental. Trees often reach 80-140 feet in height and 1.5 to 3 feet in diameter. The oldest white spruce may reach 300 years of age.

Leaves (needles) are needle-shaped, and are often somewhat crowded on the upper half of the branchlets. Needles are usually 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, blunt at the tip and green to bluish-green in color. Typically, needles are 4 angled (4-sided) and are present on short twig-like structures on the stem (sterigmata). When crushed, needles have a disagreeable odor, thus, the common name of "skunk spruce" or "cat spruce" is often used by those familiar with the species. The bark is thin, light grayish-brown and is produced in irregular, thin, scaly plates.

The species is monecious, meaning both male and female flowers (strobili) are found on the same tree. Pollination occurs in the spring and cones mature in one season. Cones are slender about 1 1/4 to 2 inches long and ripen in early fall. Cones are pale brown at maturity with scales that are thin, flexible, and rounded. Cones usually fall from the tree shortly after seeds are shed.

White spruce is tolerant of a considerable amount of shade. Its best growth is on moist, acidic, loamy soils and is often found on stream banks, lake shores and adjacent slopes. The species seldom occurs in pure stands but grows in association with balsam fir, black spruce, eastern hemlock, trembling aspen, and other northern hardwoods.

As a Christmas tree, white spruce has excellent foliage color, short stiff needles and a good natural shape. Needle retention is better than some of other spruce species.

Colorado Blue Spruce
Picea pungens Engelm.

Colorado blue spruce, or blue spruce, is an attractive tree often used for Christmas trees or as ornamentals, particularly in the eastern United States and Europe. It is the official state tree of both Colorado and Utah. The species generally reaches a height of 65-115 feet at maturity with a diameter of 2-3 feet. It has a narrow, pyramidal shape and cone-shaped crown. As trees become older, they often take on a more irregular appearance. While blue spruce grows relatively slowly, it is long-lived and may reach ages of 600-800 years.

Leaves (needles) are 1-1 1/2 inches long on lower branches but somewhat shorter on upper branches. They are 4-sided and have a very sharp point on the end. It is this point which gives the species its name "pungens", from the Latin word for sharp as in puncture wound. Needles are generally dull bluish-gray to silvery blue and emit a resinous odor when crushed. Some trees have a more distinct bluish-white or silvery-white foliage. The cultivated variety 'glauca' is noted for this type of coloration. Nursery managers also select for "shiners" which demonstrate this very desirable characteristic. Needles occur on small peg-like structures on the twig called sterigmata. The sterigmata persist on the twigs after needles have fallen, which is usually after the third or fourth year.

Blue spruce is moderately shade tolerant and grows best in deep, rich, gravely soils, often along stream banks and other sites with high moisture levels. It usually does not occur in large stands but is found in small groves or in association with Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce or ponderosa pine. A deep penetrating root system makes the species resistant to being blown over.

Blue spruce is finding increasing popularity as a Christmas tree as a result of its symmetrical form and attractive blue foliage. The species has an excellent natural shape and requires little shearing. Additionally, needle retention is among the best for the spruces. Its popularity as an ornamental leads many consumers to use blue spruce as a living Christmas tree, to be planted after the holiday season.

Douglas Fir
Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco

Douglas-fir is not related to the true firs. This wide ranging species grows from 70 to 250 feet tall. The branches are spreading to drooping, the buds sharply pointed and the bark is very thick, fluted, ridged, rough and dark brown.

The needles are dark green or blue green, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch. They have a sweet fragrance when crushed.

Pollen strobili are small and reddish-brown. Young cones are small, oval shaped and hang downward. They are reddish-brown to gray, 3" long and do not dissipate to spread seed as do true firs (Abies sp.). The cones open in the late summer to disperse the seeds and will continue to hang on the trees through the fall.

Eastern White Pine
Pinus strobus L.

Beginning with the British colonists, eastern white pine (or white pine) has proven to be one of the most important and most desirable species of North America. It is a truly magnificent tree attaining a height of 80 feet or more at maturity with a diameter of two to three feet. White pine is considered to be the largest pine in the United States. In colonial times, white pines above 24 inches in diameter were reserved for England to be used as ships masts. These trees were identified by blazing a broad arrow on the trunk. Because of the colonists general dislike of British rule, this "broad arrow" policy was one more source of friction between the two. Until about 1890, white pine was considered the species of choice for most commercial uses. It is the state tree of Maine and Michigan.

Leaves (needles) are soft, flexible and bluish-green to silver green in color and are regularly arranged in bundles of five. Needles are 2 1/2-5 inches long and are usually shed at the end of the second growing season. Both male and female flowers (strobili) occur on the same tree, with pollination occurring in spring. Cones are 4-8 inches in length, usually slightly curved and mature at the end of the second season. Cone scales are rather thin and never have prickles. Cones also have exudations of a fragrant gummy resin.

Bark on young trunks and branches is smooth and tends to be greenish-brown in color. On older trunks, the bark becomes dark gray and shallowly fissured. Limbs tend to persist, particularly on trees grown without severe competition.


The arborvitae is an evergreen tree or shrub from the cypress family. They are found primarily throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. The arborvitae has scale like leaves that are soft to the touch, rather than prickly. Arborvitae prefers colder climates to warmer ones.

Arborvitae plays an important role in the wild. Its leaves are one of the most popular evergreens eaten by deer and other mammals during the winter. The dense canopy of an arborvitae tree provides cover for birds and mammals year round. An arborvitae, when allowed to, may reach thirty feet tall and ten feet wide.

Arborvitae grows best in moist soils with an alkaline pH level. They are also adaptable to poor soils that are rocky, sterile, dry or wet. An arborvitae will also grow, though not as well, in soils that are neutral or have an acidic pH level. They can be planted anywhere that has full to partial sun, and require minimal aftercare. Found in zones three to seven, the arborvitae plants will not thrive in southern regions.

Arborvitae trees come in many different shapes. Some, like the American arborvitae, are wide, cone shaped. Others, like the pyramidalis, are thinner. The globe arborvitae is rounded. Arborvitae trees can also be pruned into the shape of hedges, and make wonderful year round privacy screens.

Norway Spruce
Picea abies (L.) Karsten

Norway spruce is one of the most important species on the European Continent. More than 100 forms and varieties have been named. Although not native to the Western hemisphere, the species and a number of its varieties are commonly planted here, particularly in southeastern Canada and northeastern United States. Originally, a number of plants were established as ornamentals, with Christmas tree plantings being established more recently. It has escaped cultivation in several localities and is considered naturalized in some of these areas.

In Europe, Norway spruce grows from 130 to 215 feet in height, but in the United States is seldom more than 130 feet tall. Diameter may reach as much as two feet on older trees. It is readily identified by its dark green needles and drooping branchlets. Trees have dark green crown with a triangular shape. Leaves (needles) are 4-sided (rectangular in section), 1/2-1 inch long, and sharp or somewhat blunt at the tip. At the base of each needle is a twig-like projection (sterigmata) which remains after the needle is lost. Although sometimes confused with true firs (Abies),

spruces in general have 1) rectangular rather than flat needles, and 2) cones which hang down rather than stand erect on the stem. Additionally, spruce cones fall from the tree after seeds are disseminated, whereas fir cones disintegrate.

The species has a reddish bark, giving it the nickname of "red fir", which flakes off in scales as the tree matures. The species is adapted to cool, temperate climates. Growth is best in full sunlight in deep, rich, moist soils. It is generally shallow-rooted and does not produce a taproot, thus is subject to being blown over by wind.



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