Sitka spruce

Picea sitchensis
Sitka spruce Sitka spruce

A large tree that commonly grows up to 70 metres tall and 2 metres across when mature. The largest known Sitka spruce is 93 metres tall and 5 metres across.

Sitka spruce leaves

Needles are light green to bluish-green, stiff, and sharp. They are four-sided but slightly flattened with two white bands running along the upper surface and two narrower bands along the lower surface. The needles are arranged spirally along the twig and are attached by small pegs which remain on the twig after the needles fall.

Seed cones are reddish- to yellowish-brown and hang from the crown. Their seed scales are thin, wavy, and irregularly toothed. Pollen cones are red.

Sitka spruce cone
Sitka spruce bark

Sitka spruce young bark
Young Bark

The bark is very thin, brown or purplish grey, and breaks up into small scales.
Where to find Sitka spruce
It grows along the coast in a narrow band from sea level to about 700 metres. It is most common along the coastal fog-belt and river and stream flood plains.
In coastal forests, Sitka spruce grows with western hemlock, western redcedar, and yellow-cedar. The forest floor is often thick with mosses, and horsetails, blueberries and deer fern flourish.

Black-tail deer abound, especially in the Queen Charlotte Islands, where they were introduced without their natural predator, the gray wolf. The productive floodplains along coastal valleys support grizzly and black bears as well as many smaller mammals.

Where to find Sitka spruce
Aboriginal people living on the coast used Sitka spruce extensively. From the roots, they fashioned beautiful water-tight hats and baskets. Roots also provided materials for ropes, fishing lines, and twine to sew boxes and baskets.

Some coastal peoples ate the inner bark or the young shoots raw as a source of vitamin C. Fresh inner bark also acts as a laxative.Caution

The native people used softened pitch to caulk and waterproof boats, harpoons and fishing gear. The pitch also provided an effective medicine for burns, boils, and other skin irritants.

Sitka spruce is valued for its wood, which is light, soft, and relatively strong and flexible. It is used for general construction, ship building and plywood. The wood has excellent acoustic properties and is used to make sounding boards in pianos and other musical instruments such as violins and guitars.

The Sitka spruce is frequently host to the spruce weevil. The weevil lays its eggs in the bud at the top of the tree. If it is warm enough, the eggs hatch and the new growth wilts and eventually dies. Cool ocean breezes and summer fog deter the weevil and allow Sitka spruce to grow freely.

Sitka spruce has been introduced into Britain and northern Europe, where it is now widely grown.

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