Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 903 Picea abies

Common Names: Norway spruce, common spruce Family: Pinaceae (pine Family)

 mature Norway spruce
A mature Norway spruce at Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum


Norway spruce is the most common spruce in cultivation and there are more than 120 different named cultivars in a wide range of forms and sizes. The typical wild Norway spruce is a large evergreen conifer, cone shaped when young but becoming more columnar with maturity. It gets 80-150 ft (24-46 m) tall with a crown spread of 20 ft (6 m) or more, and a trunk diameter up to 5 ft (1.5 m). In cultivation, they rarely exceed 50 ft (15 m) in height. The trunk bark is reddish brown to purplish and flakes off in thin plates. The bark on young shoots is orange brown. The main branches come off the trunk in a whorled pattern, mainly horizontal with upward turned tips. Smaller branchlets tend to droop downward off the main branches. The gray green to blue green needles are about an inch long or a little less, and distinctly four-angled. They point forward and upward and are thickly set on the shoots, like a bottle brush. Most of the smaller cultivars have shorter needles. Spruces are monoecious, and male and female cones are produced on the same tree, but on separate branches. The female (seed bearing) cones are reddish brown, pendulous and 4-6 in (10-15 cm) long. Male cones are smaller, like catkins.

'Pyramidata' is broadly cone shaped, to 70 ft (21 m) tall. 'Virgata' (a.k.a. snake-branched spruce) has a sparse, irregular branching pattern. The very popular cultivar 'Nidiformis', also called bird's nest spruce, is a slow growing bushy shrub that grows with outward spreading branches leaving a hollow "nest" in the center of the bush; it gets about 5 ft (1.5 m) tall and 10-12 ft (3-3.7 m) wide. 'Inversa' is a weeping form with branches that droop downward. 'Little Gem' is a dense flat-topped bush with tiny needles. 'Reflexa' is a creeping groundcover which can be tied to a stake and allowed to droop. The dwarf cultivar, 'Clanbrassiliana' grows very slowly into a 3 ft (0.6 m) tall flat-topped mound. 'Pumila' (dwarf Norway spruce) is similar, to 7 ft (2.1 m) tall, but has horizontal lower branches and nearly vertical upper branches. 'Maxwellii' (Maxwell spruce) is another low growing, compact bush.

Norway spruce
Norway spruce, like all spruces, has linear leaves that are stemless, four-sided and attached singly to the branch.


There are around 45 species of spruces, all native to the cool temperate regions of Asia, Europe and North America. Almost half the known species are native to China. Norway spruce is native to eastern and central Europe, north into southern Scandinavia. Norway spruce, Picea abies, is possibly the most commonly planted conifer in North America.


Norway spruce does well in any relatively well-drained neutral to acidic soil. The dwarf cultivars of Norway spruce are noted for their very slow growth rates. On the other hand, the larger cultivars and the species are relatively fast growers, as spruces go. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Norway spruce requires abundant moisture. Even established specimens should be given supplemental watering during prolonged dry periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Propagation: Propagate Norway spruce from seeds sown in spring. Seeds usually germinate readily and do not require pre-treatment. The dwarf cultivars may be propagated from tip cuttings of mature shoots taken in summer. Some of the cultivars typically are grafted onto seedlings of the species.


The typical species form of Norway spruce is an important timber tree in its native land, harvested for pulp and general purpose construction. A resin extracted from the bark is called burgundy pitch and used in varnishes and medicines. Norway spruce is the traditional Christmas tree in Europe, and is also used for that purpose in North America. As an ornamental, Norway spruce is commonly cultivated as a specimen or in rows for screens or windbreaks. Bird's nest spruce and other dwarf cultivars of Norway spruce are often used as features in foundation plantings and rock gardens. Some of the dwarf cultivars are used in Bonsai.

Norway spruce
This is a very old specimen of the cultivar 'Nidiformis' or bird's nest spruce. Notice that one of the branches has reverted to the typical form and is growing into a standard size tree.


There are eight or nine families of conifers - see the Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) profile for a survey order Coniferales and Araucariaceae. Members of the pine family (Pinaceae) can be recognized by having needlelike or linear leaves and woody elongated cones. Use this dichotomous key to identify the most common genera in the pine family:

Leaves needlelike, attached in clusters of 2 or more to the branchlets
.....Needles deciduous - Larix, the larches
.....Needles evergreen
..........Needles in clusters of 2-8 - Pinus, the true pines
..........Needles in clusters of 10-40 - Cedrus, the true cedars

Leaves linear, attached singly to the branchlets
.....Cones pendulous
..........Branchlets rough due to stubs persisting after old leaves have fallen
.............Leaves with short stalks, flat or round - Tsuga, the hemlocks
.............Leaves without stalks, four-sided - Picea, the spruces
..........Branchlets smooth - Pseudotsuga, the Douglas-firs
.....Cones erect - Abies, the true firs

Steve Christman01/19/01; updated 9/10/03

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Picea species profiled on Floridata:

Picea abies

( Norway spruce, common spruce )

Picea glauca var. albertiana

( dwarf Alberta spruce, dwarf white spruce )

Picea orientalis

( Oriental spruce, Caucasian spruce )

Picea pungens

( Colorado spruce, Colorado blue spruce, blue spruce )

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