Native Plant of the Month: Sitka Spruce

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Sitka Spruce – Picea sitchensis
If you have ever grabbed a conifer tree and were poked by its particularly spiky needles, those needles likely belonged to a spruce tree. Known for its tough leaves and scaly bark, the Sitka spruce is a classic tree of the Pacific Northwest. Other common names are the coast spruce, tideland spruce, épinette de Sitka, and pícea de Sitka. The bark is distinct; thin, brown or purplish gray, and broken up into scales. Their branches droop a bit, twigs are stout and rough, and buds are reddish brown.

 

They grow in the northern hemisphere, among western hemlock, red and yellow cedar, horsetails, and deer fern. Sitka are among the tallest tree species in the world, generally ranging from a height of 125-185 feet tall. The tallest Sitka Spruce can be found in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California. Standing 317 feet tall, it has a girth is almost 30 feet!

 

Sitka Spruce used to be more common in the Pacific Northwest but many were cut down throughout the 20th century and turned into airplanes. Prior to this, indigenous peoples of Washington peeled, split, and dried the roots of this spruce tree and used them to tie together tools such as salmon spears. The roots also work well to weave baskets and tie cross pieces of canoes. (In Lushootseed, a language or dialect of several Puget Sound Salish Native American tribes of current Washington state, the word canoe is: q̓il̕bid.) The resin, or pitch, can be used as glue or chewing gum and was also used as medicine for skin irritations. The wood from a Spruce tree is often used in hardwood floors because it is strong and flexible. Do you have a guitar? It could be made of spruce wood because it is known to have good acoustic properties.

 

Although Sitka Spruces are one of the largest trees, their height and width can be stunted in a bog environment. Regardless, be careful when handling this tree’s needles, they are sharp!

 

Want more Knowledge?

DNR: Old Growth Guide
By:
SHADOW Intern Gabrielle (Gabi) Esparza