Meet 12 Spruce Trees and Shrubs

Picture of the bird's nest spruce
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
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    Members of the Picea Genus

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

    Characteristics of Spruce Trees and Shrubs

    These conifers feature needles attached to the branch by a swollen area called a pulvinus, which allows extra flexibility and movement. This area, which resembles a peg, is left behind if a needle drops and is one key hint to its 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 only holds one spruce needle. The pulvini are arranged in a whorl around the branch. Finally, if you were to slice straight across a needle, it would exhibit either a triangular or square shape. Spruce trees are monoecious. The female cone scales are more flexible than pine cone scales.

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  • 02 of 14

    Bird's Nest Spruce

    Picture of the bird's nest spruce
    Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

    This variety of the Norway spruce forms a dwarf round shrub with an indentation on the top that makes it look like a bird's nest, inspiring the common name. This can work well in a container if you wish to have a small evergreen conifer on your patio, for example. It grows between two and four feet tall. It's suited to USDA Zones three through eight. Check out the bird's nest spruce growing profile for more information.

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  • 03 of 14

    Black Spruce

    Black spruce image
    Image by Arthur Chapman via Flickr

    The black spruce does well in wet areas and lives primarily in a type of area called a 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 two through five.

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    Brewer Spruce

    Brewer spruce image
    Image by 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 since the weeping form really makes it stand out. It is a winner of the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. It's suited to USDA Zones five through eight.

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    Caucasian Spruce

    Caucasian spruce image
    Image by Ryan Somma

    The Caucasian spruce can live in a wide variety of soil types. It will need 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's suited to USDA Zones four through seven.

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  • 06 of 14

    Colorado Blue Spruce

    The blue spruce is the state tree of Colorado
    Image by blmurch via Flickr Creative Commons

    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, except it does need regular watering in hot areas. Some use this as a Christmas tree. It is the state tree for Colorado and Utah. It's suited to USDA Zones three through eight.

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  • 07 of 14

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce

    Dwarf Alberta spruce picture
    Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

    This popular shrub is a variety of the white spruce that grows in a conical shape. It is a great choice for a living Christmas tree. The dwarf Alberta spruce is a common choice for creating a spiral shrub topiary or other shapes, and I see it often enough in pots next to a front door. It's suited to USDA Zones two through eight.

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  • 08 of 14

    Engelmann's Spruce

    Englemann's spruce image
    Image by JJ Harrison via Creative 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 is used in the lumber industry and the wood is sometimes used to make musical instruments. These trees can live for hundreds of years. It's suited to USDA Zones three through seven.

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  • 09 of 14

    Norway Spruce

    Image of Inversa Norway Spruce
    This is a cultivar called the Inversa Norway spruce. Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

    The Norway spruce needs soil that drains well, as it will have problems if the soil is too wet. It can be used as a Christmas tree. The wood of the Norway spruce is often used in the lumber industry. It is also often utilized in the creation of stringed instruments because it resonates well. If you want an unusual specimen, look for the 'Inversa' cultivar. This is a dwarf weeping kind that will definitely be eye-catching. It's suited to USDA Zones two through seven.

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  • 10 of 14

    Red Spruce

    Red spruce image
    Image by David W. Siu via Flickr

    The red spruce may be planted in areas that receive shade. It should be placed in a cool area with adequate moisture. Confusingly it's also called the yellow spruce, a name inspired by the light yellow wood of the tree. It's suited to USDA Zones three through six.

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    Serbian Spruce

    Image of the Serbian spruce
    Image by Vanessa Richins via Forestry 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. The species name of omorika was given because it is the Serbian word for spruce. It's suited to USDA Zones four through seven. Check out the Serbian spruce growing profile.

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  • 12 of 14

    Sitka Spruce

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

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

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  • 13 of 14

    White Spruce

    Weeping White Spruce
    This is a weeping cultivar of the white spruce. Image by 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. It's suited to USDA Zones two through six.

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  • 14 of 14

    Interested in Other Types of Conifers?

    Common Juniper, foliage and berries (Juniperus Comunis) in Alto Tajo Natural Park. Guadalajara. Spain
    David Santiago Garcia Getty

    Spruce trees and shrubs can be a wonderful addition to your garden, but it is possible that other conifers could work better. Take a look at some of these other options to see if you fall in love with one: