Tree a Day ID Picea glauca

Picea – Latin “pix” and Greek “pissa” both having to do with pitch.

Did you know that Picea glauca has wildlife value? Deer do not like it, but it attracts every gardener’s favorites, like SQUIRRELS, RODENTS and HARES. Well actually, it does get a few good critters, like grouse, chickadees, grosbeaks, sparrows, juncos, and if you live in the wilderness, moose. I am not sure why moose visit, unless they eat the buds, but deer are not fond of them, but may eat them if really hungry.

The little critters and birds like the seeds and buds. Plus, many bird nests can be found tucked in the tree.

(Picea glauca (Moench) Voss)

These images are from Virginia Tech Department of Forest resources and Environmental Conservation  files. Cornell has such files also.

There are over 30 cultivated varieties of White Spruce and they can be commonly called Western White Spruce, Canadian Spruce, Alberta Spruce, Alberta White Spruce, Black Hills Spruce, Skunk Spruce, Cat Spruce, among a few other names.

Some of them are quite stinky. Trust me, I make wreaths out of them at Christmas. It  does smell like a skunk or cat got to them. I was looking all around the building when I first smelled this odor, looking for the skunk that got in to my work area. It is when they warm up in a home at Christmas, that homeowners think their cats got territorial. Outside, not a problem.

Notice this tree to the left. See how it is clipped. The leader is removed and a new one developes. This is one way to maintain the size of the tree. The other is cutting off candles late in fall. Just nip the new growth and it helps retard the tree.

I do this with my concolor ‘shrub’ each year. Otherwise, my tree would be over sixteen feet tall, rather than its poultry nine. If you look at it my previous post, you will see its new leader starting to grow. The nursery guys always come to my house each year to retrim my tree. They say I am getting good at it though.

I mentioned in a comment on my previous post that you can identify some conifers by smell. Crush the needles and see what I mean.

A taxonomic variety is densata and it is found in South Dakota. This one is sold as a Christmas tree as Black Hills Spruce. Gardeners everywhere are familiar with the Alberta Spruce, var. abertiana , or Western White Spruce.  This spruce may actually be a member of  densata, as you will read below how it was derived.

White Spruce

White Spruce is one of the most important commercial tree in the boreal forest.

White Spruce branch

Another fun fact. The Native Americans used the pliable roots of the White Spruce for lacing their birch bark canoes as well as constructing other useful items.

So how do we tell them from other Spruce, like Red and Black? Norway Spruce grows much larger and that is one way to tell.  White Spruce is a major source of pulpwood in Canada.


  • Narrow spire-like crown, growing to 100 feet or more. (not the Dwarf Alberta though)


  • Needles: Stiff, 4-sided borne singly from all sides and curved slightly inward. They are generally blue-green and always sharply pointed. Often the needles are crowed on the upper side of the branch with a waxy feel. You can see this in my first photo or the one below shown from the backside of the branch. Toward the upper portion of the tree is mostly where the needles are on the upper side of the branch. The close up cutting was taken at ground level. My friend, the grower was standing next to me so no hacking the tree for demonstration purposes.

White Spruce Close Up

The Alberta Spruce is derived from clonal cuttings of a White Spruce mutation.

Alberta is much denser, yet just as picky

  • Trunk: long and straight
  • Branches: Self-pruning in dense stands, with the crown reduced to the upper half of the tree ( but not Alberta).
  • Bark: on mature trees it is thin, less than .03″ thick, scaly or smooth, light gray-brown.
  • Roots: Descend generally to 3 or 4 feet, but the tap and sinker roots grown to 10 feet.  And large roots can be within 6″ of the mineral soil surface. I bet any one trying to dig one out will never forget these statistics.
  • Seed Cones: light brown, oval cone, 2″ long. Pendant in branches on the upper crown. I see this a lot in the fields.  Cones all around the crown of the trees. The growers do not like this occurring. It is bad for selling it as a Christmas tree.

And they get both general and specific pests and disease.

I need to recognize disease as a Master Gardener so here are a few.

  • Needle and Stem Rusts
  • Root Disease
  • Trunk Rots
  • Mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum)
  • Bark beetles
  • Wood-boring insects
  • Weevil
  • Spruce Budworm
  • Yellowheaded Spruce Sawfly
  • Spider Mites notoriously on Alberta

One thing about spider mites. They are controlled by repeated sprays of water. And if your Alberta branches are brown and dead looking, after removing the mites, give it some time. The needles grow back.

I had one severely damaged by a worker doing mortar work, then dumping the dirty water right on the tree. The whole backside was defoliated but the needles returned in time.

Our next Tree a Day ID will be The Red Spruce. I will sketch another for you to compare. Each post will include the previous images for comparison plus the link back to the original post carrying the information in case you need a refresher on any tree I posted.

One of my three Alberta Spruces above, Picea glauca ‘Conica’

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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13 Responses to Tree a Day ID Picea glauca

  1. One says:

    Donna, I am always very impressed with your posts. You are very versatile. One day, you have a witty post with beautiful photos and on other days, informative ones. Still remember the ad on Gnomes 4 Homes whenever I see the grasshoppers. I always enjoy your sketches too.

  2. Donna thanks a very interesting and informative post, I have some spruce (I think they are spruce) trees in my garden, no idea which though Norway Spruce seems to be the most common as people plant out their christmas trees, I shall be looking more closely at my trees to see if I can identify them, Frances

  3. Great sketch Donna! I am always amazed at your many talents! Great post. We don’t have these trees in Georgia but they are beautiful. Always amazed by how many pests & diseases can afflict them.

  4. Donna says:

    we have no large conifers on our property which used to be woods. I have planted a few that are small starters and we shall see how they grow… great info again

  5. lifeshighway says:

    I learned more today about spruce than I have in a lifetime. I live in the coastal pine forest, where I am sure there are some ornamental spruce here and about they are not a common site.

    I would plant one to get a moose in my yard though.

  6. Dear Donna, I love your sketches and envy your talent! The cardinal you painted on your banner is adorable. Very informative posting. P x

  7. patty says:

    Interesting that the leader can be replaced. I know it is not possible for all trees, but perhaps conifers have a better success rate than deciduous trees.

  8. Marguerite says:

    Donna, this is a great post on identification. I think I’m going to start nipping some branches off the trees around here and investigating a little more closely. Never knew about the smell.

  9. Andrea says:

    Hi Donna, we dont have this tree in the tropics, but it is a beautiful tree. Your post is very informative and will be a good reference for this plant in the net. I am sure many will find it also very informative, and the sketch is great.

  10. Carolyn♥ says:

    You are a lady of many talents and so much energy! I’m sure I’ve said that to you before.
    As always, love your sketches.

  11. Dear Donna -Your sketch is beautiful, your comments on odour humourous and your knowledge knows no bounds. In short, a superb tree tutorial post – seems we are both tree blogging this year.

    p.s. found the info on cutting the leader useful. Always thought that a conifer’s lost leader was gone forever. My conical cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) lost its top when the container blew down in the wind and looks like a puff ball now. Is there hope?

  12. Alistair says:

    Hello Donna, Great information on Spruce, I recently removed so many conifers from the garden, just causing too much shade. Mind you they were the dreaded Leylandii.

  13. Bom says:

    Great sketch! Very useful information. I didn’t know about clipping the leader. I bought trees, not spruce though, mid-November that I was planning to use for Christmas. By mid-December, I was worried it wouldn’t fit in the house. 😀

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