Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) is native to the higher elevations of the Cascades and Rocky Mountains. This long-lived, slow growing tree has a dramatic, spire-like subalpine form with short, dense, down sweeping boughs. At high altitudes it is dwarfed and scraggly, a krummholz type.
Mature Engelmann spruce bark is scaly and thin, varying in color from purplish brown to russet red.
The leaves (needles) are arranged singly in a spiral around the twig. Often the needles are curved toward the tip of the branch and from afar appear to only grow from the top side of the branch. The four-sided needles are borne on pegs. The pegs remain on the branches after the needles fall. Engelmann spruce needles are deep blue-green with a silvery or whitish tinge and are flexible.
Male and female flowers occur on twigs of the previous year’s growth, mostly near the top of the crown. The dark purple male flowers make pollen and are drooping. Cones and seeds are produced by the erect, scarlet female flowers. Each Engelmann spruce bears both male and female flowers.
Immature cones are red to dark purple and mature in one season (about August) to a chestnut color. The cones are drooping or bent downward. Two seeds occur under each thin cone scale. Seeds are shed in the early autumn and the cones fall by early winter. Engelmann spruce seeds are blackish brown with a thin wing on one end. The seeds are dispersed by the wind.
Engelmann spruce wood is straight and long-fibered, soft and light. The wood is used for lumber and paper pulp. String instrument soundboards are made from the denser wood of slow-growing, high elevation trees.
The species honors Georg Engelmann (1809 – 1884), a physician and botanist who studied conifers and North American cacti and yuccas. Mountain spruce is another common name for P engelmannii.
These Engelmann spruce trees were photographed along the Bristlecone Pine Trail on Mount Wheeler, Great Basin National Park, Nevada.