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The Spruce Fir

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Spruce Fir tree

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Family Pinaceae
Picea Abies

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 years.
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.


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