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Norway spruce

  • Trees and Shrubs
Norway spruce (Picea abies)
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Michel Tremblay)
Picea abies.
  • Picea abies.
  • Picea abies 'Rubra Spicata' cones



Origin and description

The genus name Picea comes from the Latin word pix, which means “pea” or “resin,” while abies means “fir.” Early botanists misidentified these trees, confusing them with firs, because of their flat needles.

Spruces are important trees, both commercially and for ornamental uses, along with firs and pines. There are some 37 to 50 spruce species found throughout the temperate and cold regions in the Northern Hemisphere.

Because Norway spruce is faster growing than native species, it is often planted for reforestation purposes. It is also used as an ornamental. Although people tend to confuse spruce and fir trees, in botanical terms they are very different. The needles on spruce branches have prominent bases, while fir branches are smooth. Spruce needles are generally four-sided and can be rolled between the fingers. Norway spruce is the exception, as its needles are flat and pointed. Finally, spruce needles drop more quickly than do fir needles when they dry out; accordingly, firs make better Christmas trees.

Norway spruce is a large tree with a straight conical crown that grows to 50 metres in the wild. The 'Argenteospica' cultivar grows to 20 metres in Quebec.

The fissured bark on Norway spruce is reddish-brown, becoming darker or grey with age. The reddish-brown or orange-brown twigs are mostly hairless. The needles growing on top of the twigs are more curved and pointed toward the tips than the needles on the sides. Although they are flattened, they are still four-sided. There is a marked contrast in colour between young and older needles. Female cones are 10 to 16 cm long and green or yellow when young, maturing to shiny brown.

Species, cultivars and related plants

'Acrocona': small broadly conical tree that grows to 8 m, with dense, drooping branches and red cones on young trees. Grow as a specimen.
'Argenteospica': New shoots creamy white, turning dark green. Grows to 20 m.
'Compacta': Dwarf form, conical, almost globular, grows to 3 m. Bluish-green needles, turning shiny green.
'Compacta Asselyn': Similar to previous cultivar, but smaller in every respect.
'Echiniformis': Mounding, grows to 0.8 m, with very dense branches and stiff, greyish-green needles.
'Inversa': Tree with pendant or drooping branches, grows to 10 m. Must be staked.
'Maxwellii': Dense and mounding, with short branches, grows to 1 m and spreads to 3 m, forming a broad, irregular dome. Slow growing.


Seven spruce species are native to North America, five of them to Canada. Norway spruce was introduced from Europe. There are vast Norway spruce forests all across Northern Europe.

Common name

Norway spruce (North America) / Common spruce (Great Britain)

Latin name (genus)

Picea abies

English common name

French common name

Botanical family

  • Pinaceae

Growing conditions

Needs full sun. Prefers slightly moist, but well-drained soil. Very hardy. Avoid very hot sites.

Easy to grow?

Adapts to different types of soil. Fast growing. Adapts well to different conditions.


  • Zone 2b
Pests and diseases
Physiological disorders

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