Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
One of the largest of all the kinds of spruces, some Norway Spruces will grow to over 100 feet at maturity. More typically they are 40 to 60 feet tall, spreading 25 to 30 feet wide. They are pyramid shaped, their symmetrical branches growing stiffly at first, then loosening and drooping as they age. Christmas tree types are 6 or 8 feet tall. The more slow-growing dwarf Norway Spruces are only 2 or 3 feet tall and spread wider than their height. The species has a reddish bark, giving it the nickname of "red fir", which flakes off in scales as the tree matures.
Norway Spruce foliage is evergreen. Its needles are very stiff, about 1/2 to 1 inch long and sharply pointed. Like most spruce needles, they are distinctively angular, somewhat square, in form. Typically the needles are dark green. They last for about 8 years, being continually replaced by new ones. These spruces have 2 forms of branching. The new reddish-brown shoots of the "comb" form hang in rows from each branch. Those of the "brush" form grow normally at the ends of branches.
The flowers of Norway Spruces are soft cones, male ones on the lower branches of the tree, female ones on the upper branches. From 5 to 7 inches long, they are visible in late May or early June. As the season progresses they dry and turn brown. As they mature, they hang down from the spruce branches. Cones may last for over a year before they drop. They are valued by a wide variety of wildlife such as squirrels, deer, ground birds and songbirds. Woodpeckers, chickadees, mockingbirds, robins, purple finches and goldfinches find nesting protection from spruces as well.
For Christmas trees, overall color of Norway Spruce is fair to excellent, but needle retention is considered poor unless the trees are cut fresh and kept properly watered. Growth during the first 10 years after field planting is relatively slow and 8 to 11 years are required to grow a 6-7 foot tree.
Norway Spruce Choices
Some notable Norway Spruce cultivars include Nidiformis (Bird's Nest Spruce) which grows densely to 3 to 6 feet, its horizontal layers of branches having numerous branchlets. It has a distinctive depression in its flat top and needs little pruning. It needs relief from scorching sun in the Midwest and South in the summer. Pendula has weeping branches that may trail up to 10 feet along a wall or support. It grows to about 3 feet tall. Repens is very wide spreading, only 2 or 3 feet tall with arching branches and resembles a shrub.