Although the Spruce Fir is classed among introduced
species, it can lay claim to have been one of
the older forest trees in Britain, for the upper
beds of the Tertiary formations contain abundant
evidence that the Spruce was a native here when
those strata were laid down. Of its modern introduction
here there is no record, but it is known that
it was as some date prior to 1548. It is widely
distributed as a native tree throughout the continent
of Europe with the exception of Denmark and Holland,
and reaches an altitude of 6,500 feet on the central
Alpine ranges. It is the principal forest tree
on the elevated tracts of Germany and Switzerland.
The Spruce Fir is a tall and graceful tree with
tapering trunk, one hundred and twenty to one
hundred and fifty feet in height, though in this
country, when full-grown, it would be about eighty
feet high, with a bole circumference of about
nine feet. At first covered with thin, smooth,
warm brown bark, in later life this breaks up
into irregular scales, thin layers of which are
cast off. Instead of a bushy crown, such as seen
in the Silver Fir, the Spruce ends in a delicate
spire, so familiar in the Christmas tree, which
is a Spruce Fir in the nursery stage. The branches
are in very regular tiers from base to summit,
and the branchlets go off almost opposite each
other, densely clothed with the short grass-green
needles. These are from a half to three-quarters
of an inch in length, four-sided, and ending in
a fine sharp point. They endure for six or seven
The flowers are produced near the ends of last
year’s shoots, those with stamens being
borne singly or in clusters of two or three. They
are about three-quarters of an inch in length,
and of a yellow colour, tinged with pink.
The cones, which hang downwards, are almost cylindrical,
about five inches long and one and a half inches
in diameter. The pale-brown scales are thin, and
loosely overlap. The seeds, of which there are
two under each scale, are very small, with a transparent
brown wing, five times the length of the seed.
The flowers appear in May, and the seeds are not
ripe until nearly a year later.
The tree is a shallow rooter, the roots going
off horizontally in all directions a little below
the surface, and becoming intimately matted with
those of neighbouring trees. This surface-rooting
often leads to disaster in plantations and forests
of Spruce, for it is least able of all the Firs
to withstand a gale, which will sometimes make
a broad avenue through a plantation by toppling
the trees one against another.
The wood of the Spruce Fir, though light, is even
grained, elastic, and durable, and the straightness
of its stem makes it very valuable for all purposes
where great length and straightness are required.
It supplies resin and pitch, and most newspapers
and the cheaper periodicals now issued largely
own their existence to the Spruce, for its fibres
reduced to pulp are made into paper upon which
they are printed.
When grown in a wood the Spruce loses its lower
branches early, but when given sufficient “elbow
room” these remain to a good old age, so
that from spire to earth the graceful cone of
bright green is continuous.
According to the International Rules we must now
use the earlier name, Picea Abies for the Spruce
Fir in preference to the better-known P. excelsa.