Norway Spruce – Picea abies

Norway Spruce – Picea abies
Family Pinaceae: Pine, Cedar, Spruce, and Fir

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Norway spruce has become naturalized in the north central U.S. and Canada.

A dense stand at the Morton Arboretum, near Hemlock Hill

Norway Spruce can grow 80 to 100 feet tall and spread 25 to 40 feet, though some listed cultivars are shrublike. Small-diameter branches sweep horizontally from the straight trunk which can grow to four feet thick. Branchlets droop from the branches toward the ground in a graceful, weeping fashion forming a delicate pyramid. On very old specimens the lower branches increase to 12" or more in diameter and the top becomes open. Many small-diameter roots originate from the base of the trunk and they are often found fairly close to the surface of the soil. The root system is shallow and often dense, particularly close to the trunk which makes growing grass difficult.

Norway spruce is native to the European Alps, the Balkan mountains, and the Carpathians, its range extending north to Scandinavia and merging with Siberian spruce (Picea obovata) in northern Russia. It was introduced to the British Isles as early as 1500 AD, and is widely planted in North America, particularly in the northeastern United States, southeastern Canada, the Pacific Coast states, and the Rocky Mountain states. Naturalized populations are known from Connecticut to Michigan and probably occur elsewhere.

In its native range, Norway spruce occurs in pure stands, transitional stands mixed with Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), or mixed stands with European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and European silver fir (Abies alba). Scattered Norway spruce occurs in seral stands of European aspen (Populus tremula) or hairy birch (Betula pubescens). Classification systems for Scandinavian forests where Norway spruce and/or Scotch pine are the major species are based on ground vegetation. Common groundlayer species include bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea), heather (Calluna vulgaris), and woodsorrel (Oxalis spp.). Good sites for Norway spruce occur on Oxalis-Myrtillus types and fair sites are indicated by Myrtillus. Vaccinium types are usually rather barren and not suited for good spruce growth. Understory species most often associated with Norway spruce in Poland include raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and European mountain-ash (Sorbus aucuparia). Mature Norway spruce forests typically have very little groundlayer vegetation.

Norway spruce wood is strong, soft, straight- and fine-grained, and easily worked. It is not durable in contact with soil. It is widely used for construction, pulp, furniture, and musical instruments. Norway spruce is one of the most common and economically important coniferous species in Europe and Scandinavia. In Maine, thinned and standing dead Norway spruce produced pulp of good strength as reported in a study of the pulp potential [2].

Norway spruce seedlings are highly preferred winter browse for snowshoe hares in Quebec. Browsing of seedlings and saplings in plantations can be intense, as young plantations form ideal winter habitat for snowshoe hares. Norway spruce is not a preferred browse for moose in Scandinavia; young and middle-aged stands of Scotch pine form habitat preferred by moose over mature Scotch pine-Norway spruce forests and bogs. In Europe, red deer strip the bark of Norway spruce. Other animals browse spruce foliage but it is not a highly preferred food source for either wildlife or domestic animals. Norway spruce provides important winter cover for a number of species of wildlife. Grouse eat spruce leaves and the seeds are consumed by a number of birds and small mammals.

Norway spruce has been planted for windbreaks and shelterbelts in western prairies, although it grows better in more humid environments. It is recommended for shelterbelt plantings in humid, severe-winter regions. Norway spruce is widely planted for Christmas trees and as an ornamental. Norway spruce roots can be used as grafting stock for white spruce (Picea glauca). Norway spruce resin has been used to make Burgundy pitch, and the twigs used to make Swiss turpentine. The twigs and needles were used to make antiscorbutic and diuretic beverages. [2]

Norway Spruce - Picea abies

Norway spruce first occurred in Scandinavia approximately 2,500 years ago; its immigration from Europe is attributed to colder Scandinavian winters coupled with increased precipitation and storm events which allowed Norway spruce to colonize areas that were formerly too dry. It survived in Scandinavia in low densities due to frequent disturbances until climatic changes coupled with a decrease in human-caused disturbances (mainly fire) allowed natural succession to proceed, resulting in the current widespread distribution of dense Norway spruce-dominated forests.
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