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Picea sitchensis is often confused with:
Picea pungens Form
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Tsuga heterophylla Form
Ulmus americana Full Form
Acer saccharum form
Picea sitchensis has some other problems:
Wind Damage

Tideland Spruce Picea sitchensis

Other Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Abies falcata
  • Abies menziesii
  • Picea falcata
  • Picea menziesii
  • Pinus menziesii
Phonetic Spelling
PI-see-a sit-KEN-sis
Description

Sitka spruce is a large, coniferous, needled evergreen tree that can grow from 40 to 230 feet tall. It can grow to have a trunk diameter of 16 to 22 feet. Reportedly, it is the largest species of spruce, the third tallest conifer species in the world, and the fourth largest conifer. The Giant Sequoia, Coast Redwood, and Western Red Cedar are the only conifers that exceed it in size. The Sitka Spruce has an open crown and pendulous branches that can reach the ground. It has 1-inch long, stiff, four-sided, blue-green needles with very sharp tips. Each needle arises from a raised woody peg or sterigma. The bark is smooth and gray but becomes purplish-brown and scaly as the tree matures. Male and female cones appear from early April to early June. The fruit is a mature woody cone that is found near the top of the tree in late summer and fall. The Sitka Spruce is a member of the Pinaceae or pine family. 

This tree is native to the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, and it is the State Tree of Alaska. It is typically found along moist cool coasts of the Pacific Northwest and performs best in moist foggy rainforests. They are rarely more than 10 miles from the ocean.  

The genus name, Picea, is thought to be derived from the Latin word pix which means "pitch." This refers to the sticky resin in the bark of the tree. The species name, sitchensis, references Sitka, Alaska. Sitka is the name of a tribe of Native Americans that inhabit the coasts of southeast Alaska and British Columbia.

This tree prefers full sun to partial shade. It performs best in cool and moist coastal climates and moist to wet soils with a high organic matter content. This species is more wind and salt spray tolerant than other similar trees. They are propagated by seeds, but cuttings and layering are other options. The tree will begin to produce cones when they are 15 to 40 years old. 

Sitka spruce is a valuable food source and nesting and roosting site for many birds and small mammals. Many of these trees are found in Olympic National Park, Vancouver Island, and Oregon Coast. Some specimens are over 1300 years old.

The Sitka spruce requires cool and moist climates near the ocean. Based on the size of the tree, it has very limited use in most landscapes.

Season of Interest:

Bark:  Year-round     Bloom:  Spring       Foliage:  Year-round    Fruit:  Summer and Fall       

Quick ID Hints:

  • large, tall, coniferous, needled-evergreen tree
  • pendulous branches
  • smooth, thin, gray bark that becomes dark purplish-brown and scaly
  • stiff, flat, four-sided, 1-inch-long needles, spirally arranged bluish-green upper surface and bluish-white on the undersides with very sharp tips 
  • each needle is formed on a woody peg or sterigma
  • male cones and female cones are produced from late April to early June
  • male cones are up to 5/8 inches long and red; female cones are 2 to 3 inches long, reddish-brown, and found near the top of the tree
  • Woody seed cones mature in late August through September and seeds may be harvested in October

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The Sitka spruce is susceptible to the green spruce aphid. It was reported that this aphid caused high mortality of this particular species in the States of Washington, Oregon, and California in 2020. The tree is also vulnerable to the white pine weevil, ambrosia beetle, spruce beetle, scales, adelgids, and spider mites. Galls are caused by the Cooley spruce gall adelgid and are frequently seen. Other potential problems include fungal diseases resulting in root and stem rots. The tree is also vulnerable to windthrow during severe storms.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Papoose'
    dwarf, blue and green short needles
'Papoose'
Tags:
#full sun tolerant#conical#interesting bark#needles#native tree#pyramidal#blue green needles#pendulous#shelter#food source wildlife#salt spray tolerant#wind tolerant#needled evergreen#cool weather plant#showy cones#spring interest#nesting sites#larval host plant#evergreen tree#wet soils tolerant#fruits late summer#horizontal branching#coastal#open#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Papoose'
    dwarf, blue and green short needles
'Papoose'
Tags:
#full sun tolerant#conical#interesting bark#needles#native tree#pyramidal#blue green needles#pendulous#shelter#food source wildlife#salt spray tolerant#wind tolerant#needled evergreen#cool weather plant#showy cones#spring interest#nesting sites#larval host plant#evergreen tree#wet soils tolerant#fruits late summer#horizontal branching#coastal#open#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Picea
    Species:
    sitchensis
    Family:
    Pinaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used the wood of the tree to make arrows and spears. The roots were used to make baskets and hats. The bark was used medicinally to treat constipation and tuberculosis. They used the young shoots and inner bark as a food source. During World Wars I and II, wood was used to build boats and airplanes. The wood is now used to build guitars and pianos because of its good resonance.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Layering
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Pacific Coast of Alaska to the Western United States
    Distribution:
    Native: Alaska, British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington. Introduced: Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Newfoundland, and Norway.
    Wildlife Value:
    Small birds feed on the seeds, and sapsuckers and woodpeckers feed on the insects in the sap or bark. Large birds such as bald eagles roost or nest in the trees. Deer and squirrels use the tree for shelter, and some small birds and small mammals use the tree cavities for nesting. Deer and elk can be found grazing on the young shoots. The tree also serves as a larval host site for butterflies and moths.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Wildlife Nesting
    Dimensions:
    Height: 40 ft. 0 in. - 230 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Needled Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Conical
    Horizontal
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8a, 8b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    The cones are tan, oblong, and measure 1.5 to 3.5 inches in length when they mature. They have scales that are thin and woody. They usually are found near the top of the tree. In late August to early September, the cones will mature. The seeds are dispersed in October.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The male cone is reddish. erect, and measures 3/8 to 5/8 of an inch long. The female cone is reddish-brown, 2 to 3 inches long, and cylinder-shaped with thin, toothed scales. The cones form in late April through early June. The female cones are usually found near the top of the tree.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Needled Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Waxy
    Leaf Type:
    Needles
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Acicular
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The evergreen needles are 5/8 to1 inches long, four-sided, flat, stiff, and spirally arranged. The needles are a dark waxy bluish-green on the upper surface, the undersides are bluish-white, and the tips are very sharp. On the upper surface of the needle, they are two thin white bands of stomata. On the lower surface, there are two dense bands. Each needle is formed on a woody peg or sterigma.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Scaly
    Smooth
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Round
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth, gray, and thin. As the tree matures, the bark becomes dark purplish-brown, and scaly.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The twigs are yellowish-brown to orangish-brown, smooth, and rather stout. They are covered with woody pegs or sterigmata. The buds are reddish-brown and have a rounded tip.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Design Feature:
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Salt
    Wind