White Spruce (Picea glauca)
White Spruces is a medium sized conifer that grows from 50 to 75 feet at maturity that is likely to be from 250 to 300 years if you are counting the years. Slow growers, they may add 15 feet over 10 years. They are fairly narrow, maintaining a spread of roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of their height. This habit along with the spreading branches give it a nice appearance for use as an ornamental. Their bark is silvery-gray, sometimes with a purplish cast. It develops thin irregularly shaped scales on the surface. 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.
White Spruce foliage is evergreen, remaining on the tree all year round. It is usually bluish-green, but brand new growth appears more silvery. Individual needles are four sided, or square in shape, and are very stiff. About 1/2 to 3/4 inches long, they lack the spined tip typical of the needles of some other types of spruces. They grow at an angle from the spruce twigs in spirals, pointing more forward than straight out and standing above the upper edges of the branchlets. 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 flowers of White Spruces are soft cones about 1 inch long. The orange male ones appear on the lower branches of the tree, and reddish-purple female ones on the upper. They open in April and are visible by late May or early June. Into July the cones, which have rounded scales, begin to dry and turn brown, then silvery gray as they weather. From 1 to 2 inches long, they continue to hang from the spruce branches, often lasting through to January. 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 in spruces as well.
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.
White Spruce Choices
The most commonly used White Spruce in residential landscapes is the dwarf variety `Conica'. A slow-grower to a maximum of 10 feet or so, it works nicely in yards as a specimen tree. Alberta Globe has a very dense habit that resembles a rounded bun. Densata (Black Hills Spruce) is slow-growing up to 40 feet tall with dense foliage. Lilliput is slow-growing and more dwarf than Conica.