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Norway Spruce
Norway Spruce.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Picea
Species: P. abies
Binomial name
Picea abies
(L.) H.Karst.
A Pineapple gall 'pseudocone' caused by Adelges abietis on a Norway Spruce.
Dissected Pineapple 'pseudocone' Galls.
Norway Spruce shoot

Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is a species of spruce native to Europe. It is also commonly referred to as the European Spruce.



It is a large evergreen coniferous tree growing to 35–55 feet tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 1-1.5 m. The shoots are orange-brown and glabrous (hairless). The leaves are needle-like, 12–24 mm long, quadrangular in cross-section (not flattened), and dark green on all four sides with inconspicuous stomatal lines. The cones are 9–17 cm long (the longest of any spruce), and have bluntly to sharply triangular-pointed scale tips. They are green or reddish, maturing brown 5–7 months after pollination. The seeds are black, 4–5 mm long, with a pale brown 15 mm wing.[1][2][3][4][5]

Populations in southeast Europe tend to have on average longer cones with more pointed scales; these are sometimes distinguished as Picea abies var. acuminata (Beck) Dallim. & A.B.Jacks., but there is extensive overlap in variation with trees from other parts of the range.[1][2][3]

Some botanists treat Siberian Spruce as a subspecies of Norway Spruce, though in their typical forms, they are very distinct, the Siberian Spruce having cones only 5–10 cm long, with smoothly rounded scales, and pubescent (hairy) shoots.[1][2][3] Genetically Norway and Siberian Spruces have turned out to be extremely similar and should be considered as two closely related subspecies of P. abies [6].

Another spruce with smoothly rounded cone scales and hairy shoots occurs rarely in the central Alps in eastern Switzerland. It is also distinct in having thicker, blue-green leaves. Many texts treat this as a variant of Norway Spruce, but it is as distinct as many other spruces, and appears to be more closely related to Siberian Spruce, Schrenk's Spruce (P. schrenkiana) from central Asia and Morinda Spruce (P. smithiana) in the Himalaya. Treated as a distinct species, it takes the name Alpine Spruce (Picea alpestris (Brügger) Stein). As with Siberian Spruce, it hybridises extensively with Norway Spruce; pure specimens are rare. Hybrids are commonly known as Norwegian Spruce, which should not be confused with the pure species Norway Spruce.[1][2][3]


The Norway Spruce grows throughout Europe from Norway in the northwest and Poland eastward, and also in the mountains of central Europe, southwest to the western end of the Alps, and southeast in the Carpathians and Balkans to the extreme north of Greece. The northern limit is in the arctic, just north of 70°N in Norway. Its eastern limit in Russia is hard to define, due to extensive hybridisation and intergradation with the Siberian Spruce (Picea obovata, syn. P. abies subsp. obovata), but is usually given as the Ural Mountains. However, trees showing some Siberian Spruce characters extend as far west as much of northern Finland, with a few records in northeast Norway. The hybrid is known as Picea x fennica (or P. × subsp. fennica, if the two taxa are considered subspecies), and can be distinguished by a tendency towards having hairy shoots and cones with smoothly rounded scales.[1][2][3] In North America, the Norway Spruce is widely planted, specifically in the northeastern, Pacific Coast, and Rocky Mountain states, as well as in southeastern Canada. There are naturalized populations occurring from Connecticut to Michigan, and it is probable that they occur elsewhere. .[7]

Cultivation and uses

The Norway Spruce is one of the most widely planted spruces, both in and outside of its native range, and one of the most economically important coniferous species in Europe.[7] It is used in forestry for timber and paper production, and as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens. It is also widely planted for use as a Christmas tree. Every Christmas, the Norwegian capital city, Oslo, provides the cities of New York, London, Edinburgh and Washington D.C. with a Norwegian spruce, which is placed at the most central square of each city. This is mainly a sign of gratitude for the aid these countries gave during the Second World War.

It is naturalised in some parts of North America, though not so extensively as to be considered an invasive weed tree. It can grow fast when young, up to 1 m per year for the first 25 years under good conditions, but becomes slower once over around 20 m tall.[8]

The Norway Spruce tolerates acidic soils well, but does not do well on dry or deficient soils. From 1928 until the 1960’s it was planted on surface mine spoils in Indiana.[7]

Several cultivars have been selected for garden use.

Other information

The tallest measured tree, 63 m tall, is in Perucica Virgin Forest, Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A press release from Umeå University says that a Norway Spruce cone named Old Tjikko, carbon dated as 9,550 years old, is the "oldest living tree."[9] However, Pando, a stand of 47,000 Quaking Aspen clones, is estimated to be between 80,000 and one million years old.[10][11] The stress is on the difference between the singular "oldest tree" and the multiple "oldest trees", and between "oldest clone" and "oldest non-clone". The oldest known individual tree (that has not taken advantage of vegetative cloning) is Methuselah, a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine.


  1. ^ a b c d e Farjon, A. (1990). Pinaceae. Drawings and Descriptions of the Genera. Koeltz Scientific Books ISBN 3-87429-298-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e Rushforth, K. (1987). Conifers. Helm ISBN 0-7470-2801-X.
  3. ^ a b c d e Gymnosperm Database: Picea abies
  4. ^ Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Picea abies. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  5. ^ Den Virtuella Floran: Picea abies distribution (in Swedish, with maps)
  6. ^ Krutovskii, K.V. & Bergmann, F.: "Introgressive hybridization and phylogenetic relationships between Norway, Picea abies (L.) Karst., and Siberian, P. obovata Ledeb., spruce species studied by isozyme loci. - Heredity 74 (1995): 464-480.
  7. ^ a b c United States Forest Service., “Index of Species Information: Picea Abies” [1] Retrieved on 18 November 2009.
  8. ^ Mitchell, A. F. (1974). A Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-212035-6
  9. ^ Umeå University Press Release: World’s oldest living tree discovered in Sweden. April 16, 2008.
  10. ^ Quaking Aspen by the Bryce Canyon National Park Service
  11. ^ Genetic Variation and the Natural History of Quaking Aspen, Mitton, J. B. & Grant, M. C. (1996). BioScience 46 (1): 25-31.


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