Black Spruce 101

Black Spruce can grow much larger in better drained soil. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd

Things You Probably Didn't Know About Black Spruce

Black Spruce is an iconic coniferous tree to the Boreal region—find out all about it here.



The black spruce is an iconic tree in the Boreal zone. It stretches across every single one of Canada's provinces and three territories. This conifer also spreads through Russia, parts of Europe, and Scandinavia. 

For such a common tree, it has little to no recognition when it comes to its hardiness. Especially its tolerance and almost preferred taste of harsh environments. Below is a primer on the black spruce and some interesting facts you may not have known about it. 

Scientific name

Picea Mariana:  Picea is the scientific name for the coniferous genus of spruce trees. Mariana actually translates to "of Maryland." 

Identification

This slow growing tree can grow up to 30 metres (that's over 98 feet) in height and has been recorded at 90 years of age at the northern limit of tree growth. Clusters of branches at the tops of the tree resembling large birds nests are commonly found on black spruce. 

Black Spruce found on higher ground can grow up and out more than spruce found in bogs or lowlands. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 

Their cones are purple when young; as they age they turn a brownish colour. The inside of the trunk itself is nearly white, i.e. has little to no colour at all. The bark is scaly, thin, and dark greenish-brown. 

A black spruce's needles are stiff and four-sided, usually with a blue-green hue. Although they can be found going any direction on the branch, the bristled needles are typically stretched upwards towards the sky. 

Habitat

A hardy tree if any, it almost appears to prefer tolerating poor living conditions. You can find black spruce in cold, poorly drained areas, such as swamps or bogs. They can also be found on high ground, and everywhere else in between. Sphagum mosses typically accompany black spruce in these not exactly idyllic habitats. 

Black Spruce Can also be found in Greenland, a very unforgiving habitat for any tree! 

Interesting Facts

  • The black pruce is a staple species in the Taiga. Otherwise known as the Boreal forest, the Taiga is the earth's largest biome aside from its oceans.
  • The Taiga actually circles the world, stretching across the United States, Canada, Greenland, Russia, and everywhere in between.
  • Black spruce is considered a serotinous species. This means its cones will open slowly over time, but in the event of a wildfire, open very quickly. It actually relies on wildfires, or controlled burns, to open its cones and aid seed dispersal. 
  • It is found in regions where sometimes six months of winter and only 50 to 100 frost-free days a year are prevalent. This is one tolerant tree!
Black spruce offer a dramatic foreground to the northern lights in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.
Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 
  • Black spruce nourishes creatures such as the woodland caribou or Boreal caribou who, unlike other caribou, have chosen to stay within the tree-lines as opposed to the tundra. 
  • The clusters found at the tips of the black spruce are often caused by squirrels feverishly picking their cones. 
  • Black spruce is commonly used as an essential oil for therapeutic respiratory purposes, as anti-inflammatory, to ease dry skin, and improve overall skin health. 
The northern lights dance frequently in the land where black spruce thrive—like here, in Kenora, Ontario. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd. 
  • When in low wet areas such as bogs, the black spruce will grow upwards, resembling a pencil. 
  • In well-drained or higher areas, they can be much broader and taller.
  • In the north, black spruce can be found in pure stands of their own species, or found with jack pine, white spruce, white birch, balsam fir, or lodgepole pines. 
  • First Nations people used black spruce to construct fish traps. Multiple cultures have fashioned drying racks and snowshoe frames from their trunks. Their resin, or sap, was also powdered and put on wounds in hopes of faster healing. Tea made from the pulp of the trunk was also believed to remedy one of kidney stones.
  • Modern day black spruce is often used for fast food chopsticks, flooring, building supplies, essential oils, and paper pulp. 

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