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White Spruce (Picea glauca)

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White Spruce

Summary

A conifer native to North America, with a northerly distribution; often found on richer sites than other spruces.

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

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Habitat

Tends to occur on well-drained soils at lower elevations, especially in riparian areas, but can be found at higher elevations. Absent from poorly-drained sites, including areas where permafrost is close to the surface. Upland populations are more common on warmer south-facing slopes. Although widespread in the entire boreal region of North America, less common in the humid northeast and more common in drier areas to the west and northwest. Although not usually common in the northeast, it becomes more common along the shore, where it often forms pure stands.

In the northwest, the dominant tree at both the altitudinal and arctic treelines. At its southern range limit, usually limited to lakeshores. Even at high altitudes, often confined to areas close to rivers and streams. Tolerant of alkaline soils, and less tolerant of acidity than black spruce. Tolerant of a wide range of soil textures, so long as the soil is adequately aerated and does not become saturated.

Occurs in all stages of forest succession, but becomes more prominent in mid to late stages.

Intolerant of fire and usually killed by fire, but able to reseed into recently burned areas from nearby trees.

Life Cycle

White spruce typically grows slower than other associated vegetation. Seedlings are shade-tolerant, but grow faster with greater sun. Small seedlings can be smothered by organic litter and can also be out-competed by mosses and other low-growing vegetation.

Trees can produce isolated cones as young as 4 years of age, but typically do not begin producing good quantities of seed until 30 to 40 years. Trees on harsher sites, such as near the treeline, may not begin bearing cones until even older than this, and seed production may always be minimal.

Seed production is highly variable from year to year, and is influenced heavily by weather conditions. Good seed crops occur irregularly, as frequently as every other year or infrequently as every 12 years, with more favorable sites and more southerly populations tending to produce bumper crops at higher frequencies. In some years, no seed is produced.

The seeds are dispersed primarily by wind; seeds falling closer to the tree are more likely to be viable, perhaps because of being heavier. Water may also aid seed dispersal along floodplains.

Seeds falling in fall remain dormant through the winter, but seeds falling earlier sprout immediately. No seeds are stored on the trees, and seeds do not remain viable in soil beyond about a year, so there is no seed banking. Overall, even under good conditions, seed viability is low.

Germination is best in exposed mineral soil, especially that resulting from fire. However, seeds can also germanite in organic soil, rotten logs, and moss. In the absence of disturbance, rotting wood is the best medium for seedlings to establish.

Trees typically live 100 to 250 years, although they may live as long as 300 years if growing in areas protected from fire. One tree, growing north of the Arctic circle, was recorded living over 1000 years.

White Spruce | The Wood Database (About This Site)

White Spruce | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Picea glauca (White Spruce) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Picea glauca | Go Botany (About This Site)

Picea glauca (White Spruce) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

White Spruce | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

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