Scientific name: Picea sitchensis
Plant type: Evergreen, coniferous tree
Environment: Sun to shade in moist to wet soil. Occurs natively in cool, wet climates.
Bloom: Male cones are pale yellow, female cones are red
Uses: Large specimen tree
Picea sitchensis can be found:
Redwood Grove, New Zealand – 48B, 66A, 66D
Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carrière, or Sitka spruce, is a large conifer tree native to the western coast of North America from Alaska to California. It has also been widely introduced in Europe where it has naturalized in countries such as the United Kingdom and Norway. The species was first described as Pinus sitchensis by Gustav Heinrich von Bongard, a German botanist, in 1832 from collections made near Sitka, Alaska. The species was reclassified as a Picea, or spruce, in 1855 by the French botanist Élie-Abel Carrière.
Picea sitchensis is the largest spruce species in the world and can grow to heights of over 300 feet. It ranks among some of the tallest trees in the world, following species such as Sequoia sempervirens (coast redwood) and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir), which can be see in the garden as well. P. sitchensis is also very long-lived, with reports of individuals that are up to 500 years old.
Native peoples used all parts of P. sitchensis extensively, from using the roots to make woven baskets to using the pitch to treat skin conditions. Today it is still a heavily logged species for human activities such as paper production, ship building, and musical instruments. In fact, Steinway piano soundboards are exclusively made with the Picea sitchensis, as it is considered to be the most resonant wood available. P. sitchensis was also the wood used in the construction of the Wright brothers’ Flyer, given its durability and resistance to splitting. The young branch tips are also often used to flavor beer.
Despite it’s widespread use P. sitchensis is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List as it still occurs in large numbers in its native range and is a pioneer species. As a pioneer species it is one of the first species to occur after both natural and human caused disturbances, such as landslides or logging. As such, the populations of P. sitchensis are stable and are not of significant conservation concern.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Profile by Victoria Stewart. Photos by Joanne Taylor and Saxon Holt.