Sitka Spruce

Like the Monterey pine of my previous post (“Monterey Pine” 10-08-14), the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is also a “coastal” conifer. Native to North America, the Sitka spruce ranges along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mendocino County CA. In the southern portion of its range the Sitka spruce is confined to within a couple miles of the coast. North of Oregon it ranges further inland along river basins, but never further than about fifty miles.

Sitka spruce habitat is moist, well-drained sites. It can tolerate cold temperatures and salt spray. Preferring low to moderate elevations, Sitka spruce is found up to timberline in certain areas. Both the Monterey pine and Sitka spruce are favored ornamentals on the East Coast and in Europe.

This magnificent conifer can grow to a height of 200 feet. Perhaps because Sitka spruce grows in moist soils the base of the tree is swollen and buttressed. The red-brown to grey-brown bark is thin and broken into small scales. The main branches are long and horizontal with drooping branchlets. The Sitka spruce in one of the few conifers that will regrow branches on the trunk if the trunk becomes exposed to sunlight. The pointed, bluish-green to yellow-green  needles (leaves) are very sharp and stiff. The four-sided needles are slightly flattened and have two distinctive white lines of stomata (pores) on the upper surface. Borne on “pegs”, when the needles fall off the pegs remain and give the twig a rough texture. Originally reddish-brown and turning brown with maturity, the seed cones have thin, wavy, irregularly toothed scales.

Sitka spruce, named after the Alaskan city, has many uses. As lumber the wood is light and soft, yet strong, making it ideal for trim, paneling, siding and furniture. Uniform in texture and without irregularities, all parts of the wood respond equally when vibrating. Sitka spruce is in demand for organ pipes and piano and violin sounding boards because this characteristic is found in few other woods. Paper pulp also is made from Sitka spruce.

Among native coastal peoples the inner bark of Sitka spruce was eaten fresh or dried and made into cakes. Some indigenous tribes also ate the young Sitka spruce shoots – a good source of Vitamin C.

Medicinally, Sitka spruce pitch was used to treat burns, boils and other skin irritations as well as for gonorrhea, syphilis, colds and rheumatism, among other afflictions.

Sitka spruce roots, “cooked’ in fire, peeled and split, made water tight hats and baskets.

Sitka spruce is also commonly called yellow spruce or coast spruce.

These Sitka spruce trees were photographed at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve north of Bandon OR.

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