Red Spruce

red spruce twig

Red Spruce (Picea rubens)

Description:

A very tall, straight conifer once much more common than it is today. It grows up to 70 ft. (22 m) in height and 2 ft. (60 cm) in diameter. Red spruce can hybridize with black spruce, so it is best to collect from areas with only large red spruce.

As a generalization, white spruce is found in old fields, treelines and along the shore, with branches straight out from the trunk. Black spruce is found in wetter areas and the branches droop. Red spruce grows in rich mixed wood stands and is not nearly as bell-shaped as black spruce. Twigs of red spruce are reddish and hairy and the new growth flushes much later in the spring than its other two relatives.

 

Growing Conditions:
Red spruce grows best in mixed wood stands, often along the sides of streams in deep, rich soil. It is found growing with hemlock, white pine, sugar maple and yellow birch in the climax of the Acadian forest. Light shading when the tree is young keeps it growing tall and straight and prevents the soil from drying out.

Propagation:

Given the height of most of the red spruce we collect seed from, wait until the red squirrels have knocked down a bunch of cones. This means that you may have to visit the site every few days during October, but it is a lovely excuse to get out into the woods.

Each cone will contain many seeds, although some may not be viable. Place the cones in a paper bag or cardboard box with some ventilation, and keep in a warm place. As the cones dry out and open, the seeds will drop out. These can be fall planted or stored in a dry place until spring.

Plant seeds every inch (2.5 cm), in rows 4 in. (10 cm) apart, at a depth of 1/4 in. (6 mm). Mulch the area over the winter removing most of this in the spring. Beds should have some shade and not be allowed to dry out.

Wildlife Uses:
All spruce are extremely valuable for wildlife, whether as a food source, nesting site or protection. Red spruce seeds are the preferred food of white-winged crossbills, red-winged crossbills and pine siskins, although many other species of bird and mammal also rely on them. Especially in hardwood stands which lack conifers, red spruce plays an important role in providing cover and protection for both predators and prey.

Areas of Usage:
Red spruce is very valuable for lumber production and for log home building. It should be a component of many forest plantings, especially after a hardwood thinning where conifers may be lacking. Red spruce does not do well under white spruce, since an attack of spruce budworm will devastate the seedlings, but if the opening is large enough they can be successful. They also make poor growth under deep shade so make sure there are partial openings in the canopy.

Additional Information:
Red Spruce is found in scattered patches throughout this province. Here it is a medium sized tree, reaching a height of 70 feet, and up to 18 inches in diameter. The trunk is straight with little taper. The crown is conical and narrow. The middle and upper branches grow out at right angles to the trunk and then curve up at the ends. The lower branches usually drop. It is grown on many types of soils but reaches it largest size on well-drained loams in moist valleys together with balsam fir, white spruce, yellow birch, sugar maple and hemlock. Although small scattered pure stands of Red Spruce do occur here, it generally is mixed with other species. The red spruce is easily distinguished from white spruce by its orange-brown hairy and ovoid cones with slightly tooth scales and from black spruce by its yellow-green foliage and the shape of the cones. The wood is extensively used for general construction, pulp-wood, boxes and crates. It is similar to white and black spruce and is usually marketed with them under the common name “spruce”.