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What Is a White Spruce?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2014
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A white spruce is a species of tree that is native to the North American continent. It keeps its green, needle-like foliage all through the year, and lives for up to a century. Common in cool climates with plenty of moisture, the white spruce is also suitable for decorative planting in regions outside of its natural range. Its commercial uses include lumber and wood for pulping.

Picea glauca is the scientific name for the white spruce. Reaching a maximum height of about 80 feet (about 24.3 m), the white spruce can also form hybrids with other types of spruce trees. In addition, a dwarf variety, the Dwarf Alberta Spruce, is sometimes found as an ornamental tree in gardens; its slow growth means that it requires little maintenance.

Bark on the white spruce appears cracked and loose, and has a gray coloration. The entire tree grows in a regular cone-like shape, and tends not to spread its branches out horizontally. Vertical growth of up to 24 inches (about 61 cm) per year is possible for the species, but the tree is not one of the quickest growing spruce species on the continent.

When the needles that grow on the white spruce are young, they are colored a whitish green and produce an unpleasant odor. As the needles get older, they turn a bluish green and develop a more appealing scent. Structurally, the needles have four sides and stick out from the branch in a spiral pattern.

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Cones are produced in summer, and they only change color from green to brown in fall. Typically, the cones are under 2 inches (about 5 cm) in length, and have rounded edges to their individual scales. During winter and springtime, the scales open to release the seeds onto the ground below the tree. These cones are actually the female flowers of the tree, which are fertilized by pollen from the male flowers that grow high up in the top of the spruce, and fall off after the spring fertilization takes place.

Conditions that the white spruce prefer to grow in include soil that has good drainage for water, and a high silt content. It can survive in soils that are not well-drained, but does not like earth that is very dry. Full sunlight is also not necessary for the white spruce to thrive, and it can thrive in an environment with lots of shade.

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