Arboretum: Picea abies, Norway spruce
Picea abies is native to northern and central Europe and is commonly planted in our Mid-Atlantic region because it grows fast and transplants easily. The Norway spruce likes cool temperatures, full sun and rich, moist soil. It’s often used as a windbreak or screening but usually outgrows the planned space, reaching 100 feet tall and 40 feet wide. The overall shape is pyramidal, with side branchlets becoming pendulous as the tree ages. Older trees also get patchy touches of red in the rough, gray bark.
The dark to medium green needles are ½ to ¾ inches long and point forward on the twigs, making them fairly prickly. This makes Norway spruce a poor candidate for a holiday tree. Another drawback is it soon loses all its needles unless freshly cut and watered. When the needles do drop, they leave behind a peg-like projection that makes the stem rough to the touch. This is characteristic of all spruces and is an easy identification trick.
Picea abies has the longest cones of the spruces; at 4 to 6-inches long they resemble fat brown cigars hanging down from the tree.
Factors against planting a Picea abies are its scraggly shape when planted in the shade and its shallow root system which can make it a victim of high winds. That’s exactly what happened to one Picea abies in a cluster of four on the Haverford College campus by the Dining Center. It tilted over in a gusty rainstorm and had to be removed. We’ve now replaced it with a young specimen. You can compare this juvenile form to its three neighbors and see how much the Norway spruce will change as it matures.
Today, the nursery trade offers cultivars in weeping and drooping forms, dwarf forms and even tightly growing branch clusters that make this tree look more like a shrub.
~ Martha Van Artsdalen