Meet 12 Spruce Trees and Shrubs

  • 01 of 13

    Spruce Characteristics

    Closeup of blue spruce tree.
    Darrell Gulin/Getty Images

    Spruce trees and shrubs are classified in the genus Picea, which includes 35 speciesIt is considered to be part of the Pinaceae family, along with pine treesfir trees, cedars, hemlocks, larches, and a few other species.  

    These conifers feature needles attached to the branch by a swollen area called a pulvinus, which allows extra flexibility and movement. The pulvinus, which resembles a peg, is left behind if a needle drops and is one key hint to the plant's identity. In fact, you should be able to identify a spruce tree just by looking at its needles.

    Another notable characteristic for identification is that, unlike the fascicles of pine trees, each pulvinus holds only one spruce needle. The pulvini are arranged in a whorl around the branch. The needle shape is another clue: If you slice straight across a needle, it exhibits either a triangular or square shape. Spruce trees are monoecious, meaning they have both male and female reproductive structures. The female cone scales of spruce are more flexible than those of pine trees.

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  • 02 of 13

    Bird's Nest Spruce

    Bird's nest spruce
    EWilco/Wikimedia Commons

    The bird's nest spruce is a variety of the Norway spruce that forms a dwarf round shrub with an indentation on the top, making it look like a bird's nest. This shrub can work well in a container if you wish to have a small evergreen conifer on your patio, for example. It grows between 2 and 4 feet tall and is suited to USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. 

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  • 03 of 13

    Black Spruce

    Black spruce
    Image by Arthur Chapman via Flickr

    The black spruce does well in wet areas and lives primarily in an environment called boreal forest or taiga. It is one of the primary hosts for the eastern dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum). If you would like a small version of this for your garden, look for the 'Nana' cultivar, which is a recipient of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. It's suited to USDA zones 2 through 5.

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  • 04 of 13

    Brewer Spruce

    Brewer Spruce
    Meneerke bloem via Creative Commons

    The species name breweriana honors the tree's founder, William Henry Brewer. It is sometimes called the weeping spruce because of the way that the branchlets hang down. This would be an excellent choice for a specimen tree in your garden, as the weeping form really makes it stand out. It is a winner of the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit and is suited to USDA zones 5 through 8.

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  • 05 of 13

    Caucasian Spruce

    The Caucasian spruce can live in a wide variety of soil types but needs to be sheltered from winds. This tree works well as a specimen conifer. If you want one with yellow needles, look for the 'Skylands,' 'Aureospicata,' and 'Aurea' cultivars. 'Barnes' and 'Nana' are dwarf cultivars, while 'Gowdy' is columnar. It is suited to USDA zones 4 through 7.

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  • 06 of 13

    Colorado Blue Spruce

    Colorado blue spruce tree.
    David Beaulieu

    The Colorado blue spruce has blue needles in a range of shades. The 'Glauca' variety is a light blue. A weeping variety is 'Glauca Pendula.' If you need one that is shorter, available varieties include 'Fat Albert,' 'Glauca Globosa,' and 'Glauca Jean's Dilly'. This spruce does well in droughts overall but does need regular watering in hot areas. It is the state tree of both Colorado and Utah. It is suited to USDA zones 3 through 8.

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  • 07 of 13

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce

    Pair of dwarf Alberta spruce.
    Dwarf Alberta spruces are commonly grown in pairs. David Beaulieu

    Dwarf Alberta is a popular shrub, being a variety of the white spruce that grows in a conical shape. It is a great choice for a living Christmas tree and is commonly used for creating a spiral shrub topiary and other shapes. They also tend be seen in pots next to a front door. This spruce is suited to USDA zones 2 through 8.

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  • 08 of 13

    Engelmann's Spruce

    Engelmann spruce
    Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

    The Engelmann spruce was named after George Engelmann, a botanist and physician. Some have considered it to be a subspecies of the white spruce. It's wood is used in the lumber industry and to make musical instruments. These trees can live for hundreds of years. They are suited to USDA zones 3 through 7.

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  • 09 of 13

    Norway Spruce

    Inversa Norway Spruce
    F. D. Richards via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

    The Norway spruce needs soil that drains well and will have problems if the soil is too wet. It can be used as a Christmas tree and is a common source of lumber. It is also often used in making stringed instruments because it resonates well. If you want an unusual specimen, look for the 'Inversa' cultivar, a dwarf weeping variety that's a definite eye-catcher. Norway spruce is suited to USDA zones 2 through 7.

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  • 10 of 13

    Red Spruce

    Red spruce
    David W. Siu via Flickr

    The red spruce can be planted in areas that receive shade, and it should stay relatively cool and receive adequate moisture. Confusingly, it's also called the yellow spruce, a name inspired by the light-yellow wood of the tree. It is suited to USDA zones 3 through 6.

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  • 11 of 13

    Serbian Spruce

    Serbian Spruce
    PhotoGraphyKM / Getty Images

    The Serbian spruce can tolerate some drought and shade, though it prefers medium levels of moisture in the soil. It is a good choice for urban landscapes as it has resistance to air pollution. Its species name, omorika, is the Serbian word for spruce. It is suited to USDA zones 4 through 7.

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  • 12 of 13

    Sitka Spruce

    The Sitka spruce is claimed by Alaska as its state tree
    born1945 via Flickr

    The Sitka spruce is the tallest species of spruce and is the state tree of Alaska. It can be over 300 feet in the wild, with the largest recorded specimen reaching 318 feet. It will be shorter in cultivation, but make sure there is plenty of room in your landscape, as "shorter" is still often over 100 feet tall. It is suited to USDA zones 6 through 8.

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  • 13 of 13

    White Spruce

    Weeping White Spruce
    This is a weeping cultivar of the white spruce. F.D.Richards under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

    The white spruce is sometimes sold as a Christmas tree. One natural variety is the Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca var. densata), which is the state tree of South Dakota. It can tolerate some light shade and is suited to USDA zones 2 through 6.