What Tree? Norway Spruce

What Tree? Norway Spruce

 Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

Although Christmas is over, given that last month we focused on the Nordmann Fir, it is only fair that we share details of the second most popular Christmas tree, the Norway Spruce.

Origins and Traditions

The Norway Spruce originated from the mountainous regions of northern and central Europe, originally from Scandinavia. It was brought to the UK in the 1800s and was predominantly planted for forestry purposes due to its fast growth and excellent timber.

This fast-growing evergreen conifer can reach up to 40m and live up to 1000 years. This tree can be identified by their tall, straight triangular appearance and evergreen leaves that are present all year. For the first 25 years, they’re said to grow up to 3 feet per year.

Every year, Edinburgh, London and Washington DC receive delivery of a Norway Spruce from the people of Norway, a thanks for its support during World War Two.  This year, the 20m high tree was felled in the Oslo forests, chosen as the “queen of the forest”.

Norway Spruce gifted by Norway

In 1841 the Norway Spruce became the ‘original’ Christmas tree when Prince Albert decorated a Norway Spruce with traditional German candles. Since then, it’s been used in homes and businesses as a Christmas tree, contributing to the festive season with its dark green needles and sweet scent.

Appearance and Identification

The Norway Spruce can be easily spotted by its pyramid shape, dark green needle-like leaves and hanging rust-coloured pinecones.

As a young tree, its bark is a coppery grey-brown colour, it may look smooth but actually rough to the touch. As it gets older (around 80 years old) the bark will become purple-brown with cracks and small plates.

Its flowers consist of clusters of stamen, turning colour in the Spring and once pollinated, growing into red-brown long cones, between 15-20cm long. These cones are downward hanging, making it distinguishable from pine trees.

The needles are typically 1 inch long and unlike last month’s What Tree (Nordmann Fir) the needles are sharp and do not have white bands on the underside. Needles from this species generally drop yearly, however some are retained for 2-3 years. In a forest or woodland area, this needle drop will hardly be noticeable.

Norway Spruce Needles

Norway Spruce Cones Pine Cones

As the Norway Spruce is often used as a Christmas tree, cut and transported from Europe to the UK, their needle drop may come sooner if the indoor temperature is too warm or they’re not well watered. In order to reduce the likelihood of significant needle drop, and a more sustainable solution, is to source UK cut trees from a local grower.

Uses of Norway Spruce

The Norway Spruce offers many valuable benefits to now, and the future.

The timber is pale cream and strong with a straight grain and fine texture. It’s ideal for producing timber for joists, rafters and flooring, furniture and boxes, and to make paper.

The Norway Spruce can cope better with drought, making it more suited to the predicted climate for England’s future. When compared to the Sitka Spruce, the Norway Spruce coped better and will help us to plan future sustainable timber sources.

Forestry England have a long-term trial in Delamere Forest studying Norway Spruce Trees, grown from seeds, to find which are most resilient to future conditions – providing a source of sustainable timber for the future.

Due to its sound transmitting properties, it is an ideal wood for violin parts (sometimes referred to as ‘violin wood’).

It also acts as a ‘nurse’ tree between young broadleaf trees. By alternating rows of the two species, broadleaf trees are encouraged to grow up straight and produce quality timber.

Grow your own

Similarly to our focus on Nordmann Fir, if you like the idea of growing your own tree this species are easy to grow and can be a sustainable way of ensuring you have a Christmas tree each year. If grown in a pot, the ultimate height and canopy spread will be restricted due to limiting available resources.

A full sun exposure in moist but well drained soils, away from shade is best for the Norway Spruce, and in the first years should be watered regularly.

Sources and Reference:

BBC News

Forestry England

Woodland Trust

Wildlife Trust