Herbs & Plants

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)

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Botanical Name: Picea sitchensis
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Genus: Picea
Species: P. sitchensis

P. menziesii. Abies menziesii. A. sitchensis. Pinus sitchensis.
Common  Names:Sitka Spruce, tideland spruce, coast spruce, and yellow spruce.

Habitat: Picea sitchensis   is native to Western N. America – Alaska to N. California. Moist, sandy, often swampy soils, occasionally on wet rocky slopes in the far north of its  range. Alluvial soils from sea level to 300 metres, usually close to the coast

An evergreen Tree  growing to almost 100 m (330 ft) tall, and with a trunk diameter at breast height that can exceed 5 m (16 ft).
It is by far the largest species of spruce and the fifth largest conifer in the world (behind giant sequoia, coast redwood, kauri and western redcedar); and the third tallest conifer species (after coast redwood and coast Douglas-fir).

The bark is thin and scaly, flaking off in small circular plates 5–20 cm (2.0–7.9 in) across. The crown is broad conic in young trees, becoming cylindric in older trees; old trees may not have branches lower than 30–40 m (98–131 ft). The shoots are very pale buff-brown, almost white, and glabrous (hairless) but with prominent pulvini. The leaves are stiff, sharp and needle-like, 15–25 mm long, flattened in cross-section, dark glaucous blue-green above with two or three thin lines of stomata, and blue-white below with two dense bands of stomata.


The cones are pendulous, slender cylindrical, 6–10 cm (2.4–3.9 in) long  and 2 cm broad when closed, opening to 3 cm broad. They have thin, flexible scales 15–20 mm long; the bracts just above the scales are the longest of any spruce, occasionally just exserted and visible on the closed cones. They are green or reddish, maturing pale brown 5–7 months after pollination. The seeds are black, 3 mm long, with a slender, 7–9 mm long pale brown wing.
. It is in leaf all year, in flower in May, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.


Sitka spruce is a long-lived conifer that may reach ages of 400-700 years (Alfaro and Omule, 1990). It was named after Sitka Island off the coast of Alaska. The island is now called Baronof Island. It is the largest spruce in North America and has been known to reach heights of 70 meters and span 2 meters across. The largest Sitka spruce known obtained a height of 93 meters and a span of 5 meters across (Taylor 1990). It is most often associated with western hemlock. This spruce has been introduced and is now grown widely throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, France and other northern European countries. Sitka spruce can easily be identified from other spruces and similar species particularly by its needles. The needles are contrastingly flat, stiff and sharp. Each needle comes from a square, raised, woody peg that remains on the branch after the needle drops. Its cones hang downward from the branches and have thin scales with jagged edges. Its bark is thin and scaly with colors ranging from brown to purplish grey (Preston, 1987; Harlow et al. 1991).

Timber properity:-

Generally straight and even grained (but sometimes spiral grained) with a fine, uniform texture. Light pinkish brown heartwood and creamy white sapwood. Light, soft, low shock resistance, moderate stiffness, good steam bending, good stability in service, and low decay resistance. Moderately low in strength but very high strength to weight ratio.Works well with hand or machine tools. Good turning properties. Nails and screws without pre-drilling and has good holding properties. One of the easiest woods to cut, glue, and finish.

Cultivation :-
Likes abundant moisture at the roots, if grown in drier areas it must be given a deep moist soil. Tolerates poor peaty soils. Succeeds in wet, cold, poor and shallow soils. Trees have succeeded on pure chalk when on a north facing hollow deep in beech woods. Prefers a pH between 4 to 6. Dislikes shade. Intolerant of atmospheric pollution. Very tolerant of exposure, resisting salt laden gales, though trees are not very wind firm in shallow soils. A long-lived tree, with specimens 700 – 800 years old being recorde. It is slow growing for its first two or three years, though it soon becomes an extremely fast growing tree and is very widely planted for timber in Britain and other temperate areas. Even trees 30 metres tall are increasing in height by 1 metre a year. New growth takes place from May to July or August and some very vigorous trees will produce a second flush of growth until September. Although the dormant tree is very cold-hardy, growth can be severely checked if the trees are growing in a frost hollow, because the young shoots are very susceptible to damage by late frosts. In Britain the best stands are produced in the sheltered valleys of W. Scotland. Trees are unsurpassed for rapid volume wood production in cool wet mountain sites on blanket peat in W. Britain. In areas with cool wet summers (1200mm of rain per year) it makes a huge specimen tree.

Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, between 30 and 90cm. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance. In some upland areas, especially over granitic or other base-poor soils, growth rate and health have been seriously affected by aluminium poisoning induced by acid rain. Plants are strongly outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus. Many trees do not bear female flowers in most years. Subject to damage by the green spruce aphid, trees are also often attacked by a bark beetle and so should be kept away from more valuable plantings. A biological control for the bark beetle is being introduced (1990).

Seed – stratification will probably improve germination so sow fresh seed in the autumn in a cold frame if possible. Sow stored seed as early in the year as possible in a cold frame. A position in light shade is probably best. Seed should not be allowed to dry out and should be stored in a cool place. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter. They can be planted out into their permanent positions in early summer of the following year, or be placed in an outdoor nursery bed for a year or so to increase in size. They might need protection from spring frosts. Cuttings of semi-ripe terminal shoots, 5 – 8cm long, August in a frame. Protect from frost. Forms roots in the spring. Cuttings of mature terminal shoots, 5 – 10cm long, September/October in a cold frame. Takes 12 months. Cuttings of soft to semi-ripe wood, early summer in a frame. Slow but sure.

Edible Uses:-
Edible Parts: Flowers; Inner bark; Seed; Seedpod.

Edible Uses: Condiment; Gum; Tea.

Young shoots – raw. Young male catkins – raw or cooked. Used as a flavouring. Immature female cones – cooked. The central portion, when roasted, is sweet and syrupy. The cones are 6 – 10cm long. Inner bark – raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups etc or added to cereals when making bread. The inner bark was usually harvested in the spring, though it was also sometimes taken in the summer. An emergency food, it is only used when all else fails. Seed – raw. The seed is about 2 – 4mm long. It is rich in fats and has a pleasant slightly resinous flavour but is too small and fiddly to be worthwhile unless you are desperate. A refreshing tea, rich in vitamin C, can be made from the young shoot tips. A gum obtained from the bark is hardened in cold water and then used for chewing. It should be aged for 3 days or more before using it. The best gum is obtained from the southern side of the tree.

Medicinal Actions & Uses:

Analgesic; Antirheumatic; Antiseptic; Diuretic; Laxative; Ophthalmic; Pectoral; Poultice; Salve; Stomachic.

Sitka spruce was widely employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it especially for its antiseptic and pectoral qualities in the treatment of lung complaints, wounds, sores etc. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. The inner bark is laxative. It has been chewed in the treatment of throat problems, coughs and colds. A decoction of the branch tips and the bark has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, stomach pains, constipation and gonorrhoea. A decoction of the cones has been taken in the treatment of pain. The cones have also been used in steam baths to treat rheumatism. A decoction of the bark has been used as a steam bath in the treatment of back aches. The resin is antiseptic and diuretic. A decoction has been used in the treatment of gonorrhoea. A poultice of the resin has been used as a rub on rheumatic joints. Combined with Indian Hellebore roots (Veratrum viride), it has been used as a poultice on rheumatic joints. The resin has also been used as a dressing or poultice on cuts, broken skin, boils, wounds, infections and suppurating sores. The resin has been chewed as a breath freshener and as a treatment for TB. The gum from new shoots and small branches has been placed in the eyes as a treatment for snow blindness. A decoction of the roots has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Other Uses
Adhesive; Basketry; Fuel; Pitch; String; Varnish; Waterproofing; Wood.

Has many uses including boxes, crates, pallets, general construction, millwork (flooring, siding, paneling, sash, doors), musical instruments (especially sounding boards), furniture (mainly hidden parts), cabinets, aircraft construction, boat building, stadium seats, cooperage, ladder rails, woodenware, novelties, and plywood.

The tough and flexible root is used in basket making and as a string. The roots were burnt over an open fire to remove the bark, then they were dried and split to make hats, ropes etc. The main body material of baskets was made from the roots. These were cut into lengths 75 – 90cm long and 12 – 25mm in diameter. Whilst still full of sap and soft, these were split into broad flat bands and these in turn were sub-divided by knife and teeth until the desired size was obtained – a little larger than coarse thread, about like small twine. The vertical rods were made of hazel (Corylus spp) and the overlay was bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax). The roots were used by several native North American Indian tribes to make tightly woven baskets that would hold water. The limbs and roots can be pounded, shredded and used to make ropes. A pitch is obtained from the tree and is used for caulking boats, waterproofing boxes etc. The rendered pitch has been used as a glue. The pitch can be melted then used as a protective varnish-like coat on wood. Wood – strong according to some reports, not strong according to others. The quality of the wood for aircraft construction is unsurpassed, it is remarkably strong yet light and its resistance – weight ratio is among the highest. The wood is elastic, soft, light, straight grained. Equal in quality to P. abies but more quickly produced, the wood is used for shipbuilding, construction, packing cases, doors, posts etc. The wood is also valued for making musical instruments and is widely used in the pulp industry to make paper. The wood is a good fuel, knotted bits of wood would keep the fire burning all night.

Sitka spruce trees provide good roosting spots for bald eagles and peregrine falcons. Deer, porcupines, elk, bear, rabbits, and hares browse the foliage.


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