Norway Spruce

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
People might think of their annual trip to pick out a Christmas Tree when they look at a Norway Spruce, and they are exactly right! The Norway Spruce is a large pyramidal tree that is dark green in color with long, cylindrical cones. Not only are they extremely popular for the holiday season, but they are also widely used for construction, pulp, furniture and musical instruments. Fun fact #1: The name of this tree is a bit of a misnomer. Although the species does grow in Norway, the Norway Spruce grew in Eurasia, the Black Forest and other parts of the continent long before making its way to Norway. Fun fact #2: The tree at the Rockefeller Center every year during the holidays is a Norway Spruce. Fun fact #3: The young branches in a Norway Spruce are often used to make beer.
Ciara Ostrander
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
7.40 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.97 m

Young trees have finely shredded bark that is thin, while the bark on mature trees is heavier, scaly and sheds relatively easily. The bark grows much thicker with age, and has a gray-brown color.
Twigs & branches
Branches and tips typically point upwards, but droop as the tree grows. The lateral branches are slightly incurved and ascending. Along each lateral branch has several branchlets that diverge into branched twigs. Along smaller branches, branchlets and twigs have pure, medium to dark green, needle-like leaves. The thicker branches resemble the color of the bark, and as you move along to the tips, you can see yellow/orange to brown color in the tips.
The leaves are needle-like with blunt, pointed tips. They are medium to dark green in color and the individual needles are 1/2 inch to an inch in length. They are smooth to the touch, and are not flattened as they have four distinct sides and are quadrangular in shape. The heads of the needles are pointed, and they spiral around the twig. Spruce needles are attached to the twig via a small woody projection called the sterigma. When the needles fall off of the tree naturally after seven to ten years, the sterigma leaves a distinct bumpiness on the stem area. The Norway Spruce is a coniferous evergreen, it does not shed its leaves in the winter.
Reproductive Structures
The Norway Spruce is a Gymnosperm, which is one of two groups of seed plants, along with Angiosperms. In the Norway Spruce, the sporophyte is dominant, and the gametophyte seeds are more reduced and are retained inside the sporophyte and protected from desiccation. In these plants, pollination has replaced swimming as the mechanism for delivering sperm to eggs. The zygote does not develop into a sporophyte, but it develops into an embryo that is packaged with food inside a seed coat. This protects the dormant embryo from cold, drought and harsh conditions. Additionally, there are two types of sporangia in the sporophyte generation that produces two types of spores: Microspores (males) and megaspores (females). The Norway Spruce seeds are dispersed by the wind. In the life history of the Spruce, there is a much longer diploid stage, but still a haploid stage. The Norway Spruce is a monoecious plant meaning that they have both the male and female reproductive organs on the same plant (hermaphrodite), the sporophylls are on the same mature sporophyte. The female gametophyte develops from the haploid spores that are contained within the sporangia. Both sexes of gametophytes develop from different types of spores produced by separate cones. One of the cones is a small pollen cone (staminate cones), which produces microspores that will develop into pollen grains by meiosis. The other cones (ovulate cones), will make megaspores that will develop into female ovules. Once the pollen reaches the eggs, fertilization occurs and the embryo is packed in a seed coat that contains a food reserve. This phase may take more than a year between pollination and fertilization while the pollen tube grows towards the megasporocyte, which undergoes meiosis into megaspores, that will mature into eggs. When the conditions are right, the seeds will find their way to the soil and becomes seedlings, and eventually mature sporophytes.
The fruit is an oblong cone, 4 to 6 inches long, that has a reddish-brown color. The scales are stiff and leathery, typically diamond-shaped, have wavy edges, with small irregular teeth. These cones are found at the end of the branches. When the seeds are released, typically in mid to late summer, they germinate quickly in the soil, and generally do not attract animals. The seeds are black, 4-5 mm long, and have a pale brown wing, with a distinct point. Once pollinated by wind, female flowers turn green and enlarge to become red-brown cones. The Norway Spruce has the longest seed cones of any Spruce.
  • Norway Spruce, Winter: 2/22/21
  • Norway Spruce, Spring: Taken 4/7/21
  • Rockefeller Christmas Tree of 2019, Autumn. Courtesy of
Natural range of distribution: 
The Norway Spruce thrives in a variety of habitats, but avoids the driest and poorest soils. It is a shade tolerant species, making it a successful competitor. The spruce grows best in cool, humid climates on rich soils. Preferred soils include well-drained sandy loams. However, it is the fastest growing spruce, and can grow in a wider variety of soil types than most other spruces. When introduced into North America, it was mainly planted in the northeast of the United States, southeastern Canada, the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountain States, and its establishment is largely a function of where it was planted, as it is likely able to survive in more areas. It mixes well with other conifers and deciduous trees as well. Outside of North America, it is the main species in the Boreal and subalpine conifer forests, from Central to Northern and Eastern Europe up to the Ural Mountains. Due to its large distribution, there are a great number of varieties and forms. This spruce can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 3-7 in the US.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The Norway Spruce is native to the European Alps, Northern Europe, the Balkan mountains, and the the Carpathians, with its range extending north to Scandanavia and merging with the Siberian Spruce in northern Russia. It was introduced to the British Isles as early as 1500 AD, and is widely planted in North America, particularly abundant in the northeastern United States, which is where this specific Spruce is located. Most early American forestry depended upon Europe for guidance, thus it isn’t strange that the Norway Spruce was one of the earliest species used in forest plantations in the northeast. In one specific study, the oldest planting found was in 1860 near Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

This species is so economically important to humans, and has been for an extremely long time, so it has been dispersed and has naturalized in many areas outside of its native range. In fact, the oldest specimen is approximately 9,550 years old, not only is it the oldest spruce, but also the world’s oldest living tree that has reproduced through layering. 

The wood of the Norway Spruce is strong, soft, straight and fine grained. It is easily worked, and is often used for construction, pulp and paper production, furniture, and musical instruments. One of its most popular and well-known uses is as a Christmas Tree in countries where it is grown, like the United States. It also also been used for windbreaks and shelterbelts. Additionally, the fresh shoot tips are used medicinally for syrup, teas, baths, inhalation and ointments. Spruce beer can also be made, which was common throughout history in colonial times, and making a sturdy appearance in the French & Indian War. This spruce beer, full of nutritional benefits like Vitamin C, was undoubtedly safer to drink than water. They sustain a large variety of wildlife, especially birds. For example, as native Eastern Hemlocks population decline in Massachusetts, scientists have hypothesized that the non-native Norway Spruce has provided a habitat for the songbirds that rely on the Eastern Hemlock since both species share similar characterisitics. 

As discussed in detail in the reproductive structures section, the Norway Spruce is a monoecious plant, having both its male and female reproductive structures on the same plant, and not different plants (dioecious). Additionally, it is wind-pollinated, and not self-pollinated, which is why the female cones sit towards the top of the tree and the male cones towards the bottom. By wind, the pollen from the male cone is carried upwards to the female cones. Norway Spruce cones open from May to June. Seeds ripen in late autumn in the same year, and are released on warm days in late autumn and winter, but are sometimes retained until spring. The Norway Spruce has a long juvenile phase of about 20 years before the first cones are formed. The cones mature from September through November, and seeds are dispersed from September through April. Once the cones have dried thoroughly, the seeds located between the scales of the cones fall out easily.
Media and Arts



Spruce Glaze 

  • 3-4 tablespoons of spruce needles 
  • 1/4 cup of cream
  • 1 1/4 cup of icing sugar 


  • 1/2 cup of cornstarch 
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup sifted plain flour 
  • 3/4 cup of butter 
  • 1 teaspoon of dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon 


  • Strip the needles from the branch and place them in a food processor, grinding them as finely as possible. 
  • Place the grinded spruce in a bowl, add in cream, and mix in icing sugar. Do this a little at a time until the desired consistency of glaze is reached. 
  • For the shortbread, sift the cornstarch, flour, and icing sugar together. Mix in the butter until a soft dough forms. If you want a bit more flavor, add in the dark brown sugar and cinnamon. 
  • Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten them a bit. 
  • Bake the cookies at 300 F, for 15 to 20 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. 
  • Once cooled, glaze the cookies with the spruce and sprinkle some granulated sugar. 

Adapted from:…