12 Spruce Tree and Shrub Types

Oriental spruce tree with pine cones hanging from branches against blue sky

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spruce trees and shrubs are classified in the genus Picea, which includes 35 speciesIt's considered part of the Pinaceae family, along with pinesfirs, cedars, hemlocks, larches, and a few other species. 

A spruce tree can be identified simply by examining its needles. These conifers feature needles attached to the branch by a swollen area, a pulvinus, a joint-like structure that allows extra flexibility and movement. The pulvinus, which resembles a peg, is left behind if a needle drops and is a telling sign that it's a spruce. Another notable characteristic for identification is that, unlike the fascicles (or clustering needles) of pine trees, each pulvinus holds only one needle.

Spruce trees are extremely versatile, with many uses. The narrow, conical growth pattern of many spruce trees makes them excellent choices for landscape use. The shape, of course, means it's a natural choice for Christmas trees, too. Spruce wood is excellent construction lumber, and it has a resonant quality that makes it a favorite for musical instruments.

Here are 12 types of spruce trees and shrubs that can add year-round color to your property.

Landscaping Tip

Spruce trees generally do well in cooler climates and may struggle in warmer, more humid ones. Most species prefer a slightly acidic soil. Make sure to give them lots of room, as many grow into extremely large trees.

  • 01 of 12

    Bird's Nest Spruce (Picea abies 'Nidiformis')

    Bird's nest spruce with green brances

    SEWilco/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

    The bird's nest spruce is a unique cultivar of Norway spruce (P. abies) that takes the form of a round dwarf shrub with an indentation on the top, resembling a bird's nest. It can work well in a container if you wish to have a small evergreen conifer on your patio. This variety grows slowly in the early years, achieving only 1–2 feet of height in the first 10 years.

    • Native Area: Northern and central Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 2–4 feet (can achieve 8 feet over 30 years)
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 02 of 12

    Black Spruce (Picea mariana)

    Green needles of the black spruce
    Nahhan / Getty Images

    The black spruce does well in wet areas and is native to boreal forest or taiga regions. It's one of the primary hosts for the parasitic eastern dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum). Although the species is a large tree, Nana—an Award of Garden Merit recipient from the Royal Horticultural Society—is a good smaller cultivar that forms a hassock-shaped mound only 1–2 feet high.

    • Native Area: Northern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–7
    • Height: 30–50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 03 of 12

    Brewer Spruce (Picea breweriana)

    Drooping green foliage of the Brewer spruce
    pcturner71 / Getty Images

    The species name of this tree, breweriana, honors a famous botanist, William Henry Brewer. It's sometimes called the weeping spruce because of the way the branchlets hang down. This is an excellent choice for a specimen tree in your garden as the weeping form gives it unique appeal. A winner of the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, the Brewer spruce prefers cool, wet winters and dry, warm summers and can be difficult to grow without these conditions.

    • Native Area: Northern California, southern Oregon
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–8
    • Height: 30–50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 04 of 12

    Oriental Spruce, Caucasian Spruce (Picea orientalis)

    Yellow-green needs of the oriental spruce or caucasian spruce
    Janusz Lukomski-Prajzner / Getty Images

    The oriental spruce, also known as the caucasian spruce, can live in a wide variety of soil types but needs to be sheltered from wind. This slow-growing tree works well as a specimen conifer, and it has 1/2-inch needles, which are shorter than most other spruces. 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 in shape.

    • Native Area: Mountainous regions from Caucasus to Turkey
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
    • Height: 10–35 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)

    Colorado blue spruce tree with blue-green foliage
    David Beaulieu

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

    • Native Area: Rocky Mountains, south of Montana
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 30–60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 06 of 12

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica')

    Pair of bright-green dwarf Alberta spruce trees
    David Beaulieu

    The dwarf Alberta spruce is a unique cultivar of the white spruce, known for its conical shape, soft bright-green needles, and dwarf shrub form. It's a great choice for a Christmas tree and is commonly used for creating spiral shrub topiary and other shapes (it's often seen in planted pots next to a front door). This cultivar was discovered in Alberta, Canada, in 1904 and has since become one of the most popular of all spruces in cultivation.

    • Native Area: Alberta, Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–6
    • Height: 10–13 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 07 of 12

    Engelmann's Spruce (Picea engelmannii)

    Several Engelmann spruce trees along a hillside

    Famartin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Engelmann spruce was named for George Engelmann, a botanist and physician. Some have considered it a subspecies of the white spruce, sharing its narrow, conical shape. It's the most common spruce in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains. Its wood is used in the lumber industry and to make musical instruments, but the tree is not a great landscape specimen in warmer climates. Engelmann spruce trees can live for hundreds of years, achieving towering heights if the growing conditions are favorable.

    • Native Area: Western North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–5
    • Height: 70–100 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 08 of 12

    Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

    Norway spruce tree with partially bare branch hanging with pine cones

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Commercially, the Norway spruce is grown as a Christmas tree and for construction lumber. It's also often used for 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. This species needs soil that drains well, and it will have problems if the soil is too wet.

    • Native Area: Northern and central Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–7
    • Height: 40–60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Red Spruce (Picea rubens)

    Green foliage of the red spruce
    saulgranda / Getty Images

    Often farmed as a Christmas tree and for wood pulp, the red spruce is upright, oval, and extremely long-lived. It can be planted in areas that receive shade (it's especially tolerant of shade when young), should stay relatively cool, and requires adequate moisture. However, it's susceptible to acid rain and doesn't make a good landscape tree in urban areas. While it's named for the reddish color of its bark, this species is also called the yellow spruce, inspired by the light yellow wood of the tree.

    • Native Area: Southeastern Canada, northeastern United States
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–6
    • Height: 60–130 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 10 of 12

    Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika)

    Green needles on the Serbian spruce
    PhotoGraphyKM / Getty Images

    The Serbian spruce can tolerate some drought and shade, though it prefers medium levels of moisture in the soil, and it's a good choice for urban landscapes because it resists air pollution. This is one of the better spruce species for hot, humid conditions. Its species name, omorika, is the Serbian word for spruce.

    • Native Area: Balkans
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
    • Height: 50–60 feet (occasionally 100 feet)
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 11 of 12

    Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)

    Feathery green foliage of the Sitka spruce
    rdparis22 / Getty Images

    The Sitka spruce, the state tree of Alaska, is the tallest spruce species, capable of reaching higher than 300 feet in the wild. The largest recorded specimen was 318 feet. Although this variety will be shorter in cultivation, make sure there's plenty of room in your landscape because "shorter" can mean that it's still more than 100 feet high.

    • Native Area: Alaska to California
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–8
    • Height: 50–100 feet or more (300 feet is possible)
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 12 of 12

    White Spruce (Picea glauca)

    Blue-green branch of the white spruce
    varbenov / Getty Images

    The white spruce is frequently grown commercially as a Christmas tree, but it also makes a good specimen tree for the landscape or in windbreaks. The needles have a whitish waxy (glaucous) coating, leading to the common name. A naturally occurring variety is the Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca var. densata), which is the state tree of South Dakota. This is an extremely hardy tree once established, but it's somewhat sensitive to urban pollution.

    • Native Area: Canada, northern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–6
    • Height: 40–60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
Article Sources
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  1. Surprising Resurgence of Red Spruce Likely Result of Cleaner Air and Warmer Winters. United States Department of Agriculture.

  2. Serbian Spruce. Chicago Botanic Garden.

  3. Ouimet R, Moore J, Duchesne L, Camiré C. Etiology of a Recent White Spruce Decline: Role of Potassium Deficiency, Past Disturbances, and Climate ChangeCanadian Journal of Forest Research. 2013;43(1):66-77. doi:10.1139/cjfr-2012-0344