- Picea, from the Latin for the Scotch Pine, Pinus silvestris
- mariana, from the Latin, "of Maryland"
- Common Name, from the dark needles
- Other common names include Bog Spruce, Swamp Spruce, Shortleaf Black
Spruce, épinette noire, Svartgreni (Is)
- Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
- Division Coniferophyta, the Conifers
- Class Pinopsida
- Order Pinales
- Family Pinaceae, the Pines, Spruce, and Firs
- Genus Picea - the Spruce, about 30 species
from cool, temperate regions of the northern hemisphere,
7 native to North America.
- Taxonomic Serial Number: 183302
- Also known as Abies mariana, Picea brevifolia, Picea
nigra, Pinus nigra
- Natural hybridization between species of Picea is common.
Although rare, Black and White Spruce (Picea
glauca) hybrids, known as Rosendahl Spruce, have been found
in northeastern Minnesota and other areas.
- A native, coniferous, slow-growing, small upright tree or dwarf shrub
with a narrow, pointed crown to 30' - 50' tall over most of its range.
- Leaves stiff, four-sided, dark blue-green ½"
needles borne on woody pegs.
- Trunk straight with little taper, with 6"-10"
diameter at maturity.
- Branches short, compact, and drooping with upturned
tips. A poor self-pruner, keeping dead branches for several years
- Bark thin, scaly, and grayish brown.
- Roots shallow and wide spreading with most in the
upper 8" of organic soil. Very susceptible to windthrow except in the
densest stands. Perhaps the tree species best adapted to growing on
permafrost soils because of its shallow rooting habit.
- Flowers monoecious
- Male red, turning yellow to light brown
- Female purple, upright, and in the upper crown
- Fruit a ¾"-1¼" cone, smallest of the
spruces; nearly round, dull grey/black, in dense clusters in the upper
crown, persisting for several years.
- Identifiable as a spruce by its stiff, 4-sided needles.
- Distinguished from true firs, such as Balsam (Abies
balsamea), in having pendulous cones, persistent woody leaf-bases,
and four-angled needles, scattered and pointing in every direction;
from White Spruce (Picea glauca)
in having shorter needles, smaller and rounder cones, and a preference
for wetter lowland areas.
- Field Marks
- Very short, stiff, 4-sided evergreen needles
- Narrow, conical form
- Transcontinental; Newfoundland to Alaska, south to British Columbia,
Minnesota, and east to Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
- Both lowland and upland sites. At southern portion of range it is
found primarily on wet organic soils, but farther north its abundance
on uplands increases. In the Lake States most abundant in peat bogs
and swamps, also on transitional sites between peatlands and uplands.
In these areas it is rare on uplands, except in isolated areas of northern
Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
- Most stands even-aged due to frequent fire intervals in Black Spruce
- Commonly grows in pure stands on organic soils and in mixed stands
on mineral soils
- Forest floor temperatures are typically lower and moisture content
higher in Black Spruce forests than in Balsam Fir (Abies
balsamea), Paper Birch (Betula
papyrifera), White Spruce, (Picea
glauca), or Quaking Aspen (Populus
- Soils: Tolerant of nutrient-poor soils, it is commonly
found on poorly drained acidic peatlands. On Minnesota peatlands, grows
best on dark brown to blackish, moderately decomposed peat that contains
much partially decomposed wood. Often found on 10' of peat, and sometimes
on peat 60' deep. On mineral soil in northern Minnesota and adjacent
Ontario, occurs on gravel/boulder loams and shallow soils over bedrock.
Black spruce usually grows on wet organic soils, but productive stands
are found on a variety of soil types from deep humus through clays,
loams, sands, coarse till, boulder pavements, and shallow soil mantles
over bedrock. In the Lake States and adjacent Canadian provinces, it
grows on soils of the order Histosols: peat bogs and swamps that have
formed on old glacial lakebeds and in muck-filled seepages on peat deposits
that range in thickness from 0.5 to 6 m (20 in to 20 ft). The most productive
black spruce stands are on dark brown to blackish peats, which usually
have a considerable amount of decayed woody material. Stands of low
productivity are usually found on thick deposits of partially decomposed
- Considered a climax species over most of its range. However, some
ecologists question whether Black Spruce forests truly attain climax
because fires usually occur at 50-150 year intervals, while "stable"
conditions may not be attained for several hundred years.
- The frequent fire return interval perpetuates numerous successional
communities. Throughout boreal North America, Paper Birch and Quaking
Aspen are successional hardwoods that frequently invade burns in Black
Spruce. Black Spruce typically seeds in promptly after fire, and with
the continued absence of fire, will eventually dominate the hardwoods.
- Pioneer that invades the sedge mat in filled-lake
bogs, though often preceded slightly by Tamarack (Larix
laricina), with which it may in time form a stable forest cover
in swamps. However, as the peat soil is gradually elevated by the accumulation
of organic matter, and the fertility of the site improves, Balsam Fir
and White Cedar will eventually replace Black Spruce and Tamarack.
- Climax Black Spruce forests are widespread across
boreal North America. North woods communities of which it is a part
- Black Spruce-Feathermoss - Medium
to dense spruce stands with a well-developed carpet of feathermosses
Hylocomium splendens, Ptilium crista-castrensis).
Most common at the southern and central portion of range.
- Black Spruce-Dwarf Shrub (A variation on the Black
Spruce-Feathermoss) - Closed Black Spruce stands with a well-developed
dwarf shrub layer (commonly Labrador Tea (Ledum
groenlandicum) in the BWCA), and forest floor dominated by
mosses and reindeer lichens. Occurs in the central and southern boreal
- Black Spruce-Sphagnum Bog Forest -
Open to closed pure stands on organic or wet mineral soils with well-developed
dwarf shrub cover and sphagnum mosses (Sphagnum spp.) dominating
the forest floor. Occurs throughout range.
- Black Spruce-Speckled Alder (Alnus
incana) - Pure or mixed stands on areas where watertable is
near the surface during the growing season. Well-developed tall shrub
and herbaceous layers.
- Black Spruce-Sedge (Muskeg) - Very open
stands of stunted trees on wet sites with the ground dominated by sedges
and grasses and well-developed moss layers (but little or no sphagnum
mosses). Widely distributed througout boreal regions.
- Disease: Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe (Arceuthobium
pusillum) most serious disease, resulting in reduced vigor, witches
brooms, deformed trees, and death. Needle cast fungus also causes death
in small areas. Susceptible to numerous needle rusts and fungi which
bring defoliation and reduced vigor. These diseases usually remain at
low levels but may become epidemic. Wind breakage arises from butt and
heart rots, common in 70-100 year old upland stands and 100-130 year
old stands on organic sites.
- Spruce Budworm causes defoliation and if it occurs several years
in a row will lead to death, though Black Spruce is less susceptible
than White Spruce, or Balsam Fir (Abies
balsamea). Trees most at risk are those growing with Balsam
Fir and White Spruce.
- Monochamus Wood Borers can kill trees that border logged areas
with significant residual slash.
- European, Yellowheaded, and Greenheaded Spruce Sawflies defoliate
- Numerous other insects attack Black Spruce but only occasionally
cause serious damage.
- Susceptible to damage from flooding and disruptions in normal groundwater
movements such as road construction or beaver dams.
- Produces seed at an early age, produces good seed crops regularly,
and has persistent, semi-serotinous cones that release seed slowly over
a period of years.
- Very well adapted to growing over bedrock because of its very shallow
- The highest quality stands are found in peat bogs, swamps, and on
upland stands that are underlain by clay loams. The pH of soils where
the black spruce is found range from very acidic to slightly basic.
- Wildfires are frequent and extensive in Black Spruce forests and usually
prevent the development of uneven-aged stands excepting in bogs and
muskegs with longer fire-free intervals.
- Easily killed by fire because it has thin bark and shallow roots,
even by low-intensity surface fires.
- Crowning is common because low-growing, lichen-draped branches are
easily ignited by ground fires. Crown fires typically result in extensive
- Immediately following fire, large quantities of seeds are released.
Delayed seedfall and delayed germination are additional postfire adaptations
which ensure that some seed is always available to germinate and establish
during postfire years with favorable growing conditions. Although large
amounts of seed do fall in the first postfire year, small amounts of
seed will continue to be released for several years after fire.
- Trees older than 30 years virtually always contain large amounts of
seed. Following fire this large seed supply is released onto burned
areas, allowing rapid seedling establishment. The seeds are usually
not destroyed by fire because the cones are located in the upper part
of the crown where they are least likely to burn. Even when trees are
killed by fire, cones usually retain viable seed. Furthermore, the cones
are small and occur in tightly compacted clusters, so that some seeds
usually remain viable even after intense crown fires.
- On upland clay or loam, Balsam Fir (Abies
balsamea), Paper Birch (Betula
papyrifera), Tamarack (Larix laricina),White
Spruce, (Picea glauca), Quaking
Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
- On organic sites, pure stands, but also mixed conifer swamps with
Balsam Fir, Tamarack, White Pine (Pinus
strobus), and White Cedar (Thuja
- On mineral soils, Quaking Aspen, Paper Birch, White Spruce, Jack Pine
(Pinus banksiana). Jack Pine is
an especially common associate on dry, sandy and rocky sites.
- In transitional areas between organic soil lowlands and mineral soil
uplands, Red Maple (Acer rubrum),
Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra),
White Pine, Red Pine (Pinus resinosa),
Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera),
American Elm (Ulmus americana).
- Shrubs: Moose Maple (Acer
spicatum), Speckled Alder (Alnus
incana), Bog Rosemary (Andromeda
glaucophylla), Bog Birch (Betula
pumila), Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne
calyculata), Bunchberry (Cornus
canadensis), Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus
sericea), Beaked Hazel (Corylus
cornuta), Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria
hispidula), Bog Laurel (Kalmia
polifolia), Labrador Tea (Ledum
groenlandicum), Twinflower (Linnaea
borealis), Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Mountain
Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
- Herbs: Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia
nudicaulis), Bluejoint Reedgrass (Calamagrostis
canadensis), Sedges (Carex ssp.), Blue Bead Lily (Clintonia
borealis), Stemless Ladyslipper (Cypripedium acaule),
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium),
Sheathed Cottonsedge (Eriophorum
vaginatum), Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera
repens), Tall Northern Bog Orchid (Habenaria hyperborea),
Blunt Leaf Orchid (Habenaria obtusata), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum
canadense), Panicle Bluebells (Mertensia paniculata),
Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora),
Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea),
One-sided Pyrola (Pyrola secunda), Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia
purpurea), Bog False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina trifolia),
and Starflower (Trientalis borealis).
- Ground Covers: Reindeer Mosses
(Cladonia spp.), Dicranum
Moss (Dicranum spp.), Bristly Clubmoss (Lycopodium
annotinum), Schreber's Feather Moss (Pleurozium
schreberi), Hair Cap Mosses (Polytrichum spp.), Sphagnum
Mosses (Sphagnum angustifolium, Sphagnum fuscum, Sphagnum magellanicum).
A conspicuous characteristic of black spruce stands is a nearly continuous
ground cover of feather mosses, sphagnum mosses, and/or reindeer lichens.
- Moose occasionally browse saplings, but white-tailed deer eat
it only under starvation conditions. Provides good cover for moose.
- A major food of snowshoe hares, especially in winter.
- Red squirrels consume seed from harvested cones.
- Mice, voles, shrews, and chipmunks eat seeds off the ground.
- Spruce grouse feed entirely on spruce needles in winter.
- Chickadees, nuthatches, crossbills, grosbeaks, and pine siskin
extract seeds from open spruce cones and eat seeds off the ground.
- It also provides good cover for spruce grouse. In the Lake States,
spruce grouse are dependent upon black spruce stands for much of
their habitat needs.
- The ruby-crowned kinglet, magnolia warbler, Cape May warbler,
and ovenbird commonly nest in Black Spruce.
- During the last Ice Age, a part of the vast White Spruce forests which
spread across the continent, just south of the windswept tundra that
bordered the great ice sheets. After White Spruce (Picea
glauca), one of the earliest species to follow the retreating
ice northward, reaching northeastern Minnesota about 13,000 years ago.
- Still cut for Christmas trees, but recently the amount harvested from
natural stands has declined. In the past, specialty items made from
black spruce included healing salves from the gum, antiscorbutic and
diuretic beverages from twigs and needles, and rope from the roots.
- The provincial tree of Newfoundland.
- Bill Nelson from Michigan reports, "When I was young, an old timber
cruiser told me that at one time all chewing gum was made from Black
Spruce. One can make it themselves by gathering the black spruce gum
and putting it in a double boiler and heating it. When it becomes liquid,
pore it into a shallow pan of cold water. The bugs and other impurities
will flote to the top. When it hardens, pour off the water andd sprinkle
some corn starch over it. Then cut it into pieces and you have some
fine natural chewing gum."
- Wood is soft and yellowish white, relatively lightweight but strong,
with long fibers that produce a very high quality pulp. The wood dries
easily and is stable after drying, is moderately light in weight and
easily worked, has moderate shrinkage, and is moderately strong, stiff,
tough, and hard. It is not very resistant to bending or end-wise compression.
It is straight, even grained, medium to fine textured, soft and produces
a lustrous finish. It is without characteristic odor or taste. The wood
is a pale yellowish white, and there is little difference between the
heartwood and sapwood. It has exceptional resonance qualities, in the
form of thin boards. It has moderately high shrinkage, but is easily
air or kiln dried. It is easily worked, glues well, is average in paint
holding ability, but rates low in nail holding capacity. It also rates
low in decay resistance and is difficult to penetrate with preservatives.
Specific gravity .38 green to .43 dry. It is easily worked, glues well,
is average in paint holding ability, but rates low in nail holding capacity.
- Principal commercial value is as pulpwood. Black spruce is the most
significant species for pulpwood in Canada. Black spruce is also commercially
utilized throughout the Lake States, especially in Minnesota.
- Small stature limits use as sawtimber and it is rarely used as such.
Used occasionally for lumber and a variety of specialty items.
- Commonly used as Christmas trees, but loses its needles so soon after
it has been cut.
- Special uses of the trees leaves include distillation for perfume
and as a main ingredient for spruce beer.
- Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by layering
- Smallest seeds of North American spruces.
- Seed Production can begin at 10 years but generally
not in quantity until 30 years. Some seed is produced every year; bumper
crops about every 4 years. Since seed crops seldom fail and the semi-serotinous
cones release seeds over a period of several years, stands that are
40 years old or older nearly always have a continuous supply of seeds.
- Seed Dispersal: cones are semi-resinous, remaining
partially closed and dispersing seed over several years. In Minnesota,
cones release about 50% of their seeds within 1 year after ripening;
85% within 5 years. Rarely, some viable seed can be found in 20 year
- Germination and establishment: will occur on numerous
substrates if the seedbed remains moist but not saturated, and free
of competing vegetation. Seedling establishment best on mineral soils,
sphagnum mosses, and rotten wood. Seeds readily germinate on sphagnum
mosses; however, seedlings are often overtopped by the fast-growing
sphagnums. Feather mosses provide a poor seedbed except during wet years
due to their tendency to dry out.
- Growth: Seedlings are shade tolerant, but growth
is fastest in full sunlight. Seedlings rarely grow more than 1" in their
first growing season. Three-year-old seedlings commonly 3"-5". Roots
of 1st-year seedlings may penetrate to 2" on upland soils, but when
growing in mosses roots rarely reach depths of 1.5" after two growing
- Layering occurs when lower branches become covered
with moss or litter; particularly common in swamps and bogs. At the
northern tree limit reproduces almost entirely through layering.
- Flowers in late May/early June. Female conelets develop rapidly and
contain mature seeds about 3 months after pollination.
- Following fire, establishes best where severe burning exposes mineral
soils on upland sites or moist peat on lowland sites. Unburned or partially
burned sphagnum mosses are good seedbeds, but unburned or partially
burned feather mosses are poor.
- Seeds in quickly after fire on relatively dry uplands with jack or
red pine. However, the pines also seed in aggressively and quickly overtop
black spruce. Black spruce is very shade tolerant and can survive in
this suppressed condition for more than 100 years and, in the absence
of fire, will eventually replace the pines.
- By seed, germinative capacity of recently ripened seed is high, about
88%. Viability decreases with age.
- Seeds require no stratification prior to sowing. They should be sown
soon after snowmelt. On upland sites, exposing mineral soils before
sowing is essential.
- Readily propagated by root cuttings.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
- Cultural Requirements
- Full sun to partial shade.
- Soil poorly drained to well drained; high in organic matter, pH
- Wet to medium moisture.
- Size 15'-30'W x 40'-50'H
- Growth rate relatively rapid after a slow-growing establishment period.
- Cultivars include
- Cultivar and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers.
- Not often planted in the landscape.
Last updated on
4 March, 2006