The Conifer~Blue Spruce

Pattie Crider
BIO 120
Conifer Paper
February 2, 2014

Not the tree from my parents yard...but a fine specimen of Blue Spruce.

Not the tree from my parents yard…but a fine specimen of Blue Spruce.

The Blue Spruce

The blue spruce is my favorite conifer because growing up my father had planted one just outside our home. From the time I was three years old until I was eighteen, I watched that blue spruce grow just as I was growing. The blue spruce out-grew me in no time. I was particularly drawn to this conifer because it had such a pretty shade of blue to its needles rather than the traditional green needles on all the other conifers in our yard. My father planted many species of conifers but none were as beautiful to me as the blue spruce. When my brother and I were young, we would crawl under the branches of the blue spruce during games of hide-n-go-seek collecting needle sap and spreading it among our friends during the game, much to the dislike of our mothers. Washing the pine tar off our skin was difficult, but getting it out of our clothing was even worse.

The blue spruce is in the Picea genus and the pungens species and also referred to as the Colorado spruce. This conifer is an ornamental tree and often used as a Christmas tree. The blue color comes from the waxes deposited on the surface of the needles. The Native American’s and early settlers used the blue spruce in many ways. The resin was made into chewing gum and the needles into a non-alcoholic beer. Medicines were made from the bark and resin. The roots of the trees were used as cords and the Indians would tied up their canoes.  It is not a fast growing conifer, but is hardy in the correct elements for it to flourish such as northern latitudes or high elevations where it is cool and humid and receives rain during the summer months. This tree’s natural range is in the Southern Rocky Mountains area, but has since been spread widely across the United States. The beauty of this tree caused people to transplant it in the eastern United States in the late 19th Century where it grows well with Douglas firs, poplar, maple and oak trees, just to name a few.

This specie of tree is not generally harvested for wood but when it is, it can be used in making expensive musical instruments and furniture. It grows to a height between 30 and 75 feet tall and can be as wide as 5 to 10 feet across the base. The massive size of this tree makes it valuable in pulp production for paper and in the past it was used to make World War II airplanes. The needles are less than 2 inches long and sharp. I recall my brother and I stopped hiding under the blue spruce in our yard after my father stop trimming the bottom limbs, less jaggy places to hide were sought. We did collect the cones that grew to about 4 inches off the tree and made yearly Christmas wreaths in December. Many species of animals such as squirrels, crossbills and nuthatches eat the cones of the blue spruce and countless type of birds, from sparrows to mourning doves, roost and nest on the spruce’s limbs, and deer will nibble on the bark.

gall-forming "pineapples"

gall-forming “pineapples”

The blue spruce is not considered an invasive species of conifer. It does fall victim to a fair share of pests. It is commonly attacked by gall-forming insects that form pineapple shaped masses at the tips of the branches. These insects won’t kill the spruce unless they it is heavily affected. Another pest is the budworm larvae that feed on the new buds and needles of the spruce. These larvae are very small yellow caterpillars that are difficult to see with the naked eye. I don’t recall ever seeing any caterpillars on our blue spruce but I do recall seeing the pineapple shapes at the end of the branches. I didn’t know what they were but I assumed they were some sort of bug. Other bugs that infest spruce trees are needle miners, aphids and mites. There are a few diseases that can have a negative effect on the growth of a blue spruce. The Cytrospora canker begins its attack on the lower branches and slowly works its way up to the higher branches causing the needles to turn brown and drop off. This disease sounds horrible and I’m glad it never infected our beautiful tree. To rid a spruce of this disease the infected branches must be cut off before it can spread to the top and kill the entire tree.

In my personal opinion, the blue spruce is the prettiest conifer, looks gorgeous when decorated with Christmas lights, and provides generous shade in the summer time. My father made a good choice when he chose to plant a blue spruce forty years ago beside our home as it blocked the wind, the rain and the sun year round.

 

Works Cited

 

Fechner, Gilbert H. “Picea pungens Engelm.” Na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvic_manual/volume_1. Web. Accessed 13 Feb. 2014

Gilman, Edward F.; Watson, Dennis G. (2011-05-01). “Picea pungens: Colorado     Spruce”. EDIS.  IFAS Extension Service: University of Florida. May 2011. Web.    Accessed 31 Jan. 2014.

Hanover, James W. Genetics of Blue Spruce. U.S. Department of Agriculture. University   of Michigan. 1975. Print.

 

 

Go ahead...take a swing. I'll duck and listen.

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