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Picea spp.


Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Toxicity
  5. Description
  6. Germplasm
  7. Distribution
  8. Ecology
  9. Cultivation
  10. Harvesting
  11. Yields and Economics
  12. Energy
  13. Biotic Factors
  14. References


Although the bruised shoots may be malodorous, those of some species have been used to make spruce beer, popular in the Canadian backwoods (Fernald et al., 1958). Millspaugh (1974) added one part of spruce essence to 76 parts water, boiling, straining, and allowing to cool; then he added 96 parts warm water, 7 parts molasses, and 1 part yeast. Another recipe for spruce beer (Can. Pharm. J. 13–14. 1878) recites 16.5 oz. double refined powdered sugar, 3 1/2 oz. bicarbonate of soda, 4 oz. citric acid, and 1 oz. concentrated spruce essence. Soda, acid, and sugar must be dried separately, the essence incorporated in the sugar, with small quantities of caramel. This represents an "instant" spruce beer, powdered, which was placed quickly in a dry bottle and corked. To serve, one teaspoonful was stirred into a glass of water. Amerindians also used the "balsam" as a chewing gum. Inner bark in spring and early summer might be eaten. Stripped young shoots can serve as nutritious emergency foods. According to Guenther (1952), commercial oil of spruce is usually not derived from one single well-defined species, but from mixed branches and leaves of spruce species (and hemlock species). The oil is used in pine and cedar blends for scenting deodorants, room sprays, etc. The resin is used for incense (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). In the days of the European invasion of North America, spruce beer was one of the favored remedies for scurvy, which plagued the immigrants after months on a diet of salt meat and dried legumes. A favorite drink of the admirals of those days was calabogus, made of molasses, rum, and spruce beer (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). The Indians were said to use the powder of spruce wood to keep their hair black. Splinters of the roots and/or bark, were used by the Amerindians in sewing their canoes.

Folk Medicine

According to Hartwell (1967–1971), the resin, seeds, and/or shoots are used in folk remedies for cancers, condylomata, excrescences, tumors, and ulcers. Reported to be anodyne, counterirritant, stimulant, and vulnerary, spruces are folk remedies for abrasions, arthritis, boils, burns, catarrh, consumption, cough, diarrhea, dyspepsia, dyspnea, headache, inflammination, nephrosis, ophthalmia, phthisis, renosis, rheumatism, scurvy, sores, sorethroat, stomach, stones, tumors, and wounds (Duke and Wain, 1981; Erichsen-Brown, 1979). Montagnai mixed the root decoction with sourgrass for lung and throat ailments (Duke, 1983c).


In comparison to fir needles (up to 427 mg ascorbic acid per kilogram), spruce was low, but spruce was higher (23 mg/kd) in carotene (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). d-Bornyl acetate, cadinene, d-camphor dipentene, dl-fenchyl alcohol, l-limonene, and b-pinene have been reported from the oil of Picea. From Picea mariana there was 2.5% santene, 1.0% tricyclene, 16.0% 1-a-pinene, and 6.5% 1-b-pinene, 10.0% 1-camphene, 3.5% myrcene, 5.0% d-delta3-carene, 6.5% dl- and 1-limonene, 1.0% terpinolene, 1.0% 1-borneol, 37.0% 1-bornyl acetate, 1.0% dl-camphor. Oil from Picea excelsa contained 1-bornyl-acetate, cadinene, dipentene, 1-phellandrene, 1-a-pinene, and santene.


Woodworkers and those exposed to the "balsam" may show contact allergies. Of 1247 patients, 5.5% were sensitive to pine and/or spruce, the majority reacting to both. Asthma suffering may be aggravated by the sawdust or the needles (Mitchell and Rook, 1979). Plasters made from spruce balsam may cause redness, itching papules, and/or sensitive skin, even pustules and ulcers.


Large, handsome, evergreen tree. Bark of trunk gray-brown to red-brown, with irregular, close scales; twigs more or less pubescent; buds small, outer scales with long hair-like points. Leaves 4-sided, somewhat curved, 10–15 mm long, spirally and thickly set on the branchlets, falling early on drying and leaving short, peg-like stubs. Male and female cones borne on the ends of previous year's growth; male sporangia opening longitudinally; female cones red-brown, pendent, 2–6 cm long, maturing by Oct. of 1st year, and usually falling soon after shedding seeds (Picea rubens from Radford et al., 1968).


Reported from the North American Center of Diversity, some American spruce species or cvs thereof are reported to tolerate bogs, frost, poor soils, and slopes (Duke, 1978). (2n = 24)


Picea glauca occurs from Alaska to Newfoundland; northeastern and north central United States; also in Black Hills of South Dakota and small scattered areas in western Montana. Picea mariana from Alaska to Newfoundland; northeastern and north central United States, and Picea rubens from Nova Scotia, southern Quebec, New England, New York, and south in Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina (Ag. Handbook 450, 1974).


Estimated to range from Cool Temperate Moist to Wet through Boreal Moist to Wet Forest Life Zones, eastern spruce are estimated to tolerate annual precipitation of 5 to 16 dm, annual temperature of 4 to 12°C, and pH of 4.5 to 7.5.


Seeds may germinate promptly without pretreatment, but cold stratification has been used for some species. When seeds of some species are chilled under moist conditions, light is not required for germination. Conversely, exposure of imbibed seeds to light during germination tests may overcome dormancy without stratification. Presoaking may increase germinative energy without influencing germinative capacity. Seeds may be treated with fumigants, fungicides, insecticides, and rodent repellants prior to sowing, but caution is advised (Ag Handbook 450, 1974). Seedling density targets are ca 300–1000/m3. Outplantings are more effective with mulches.


Trees apparently should be harvested Jan.–Apr. when essential oils are highest. For seed, fruits should be harvested promptly at ripening to avoid seed shatter. Seeds may lose viability if left in the cone too long.

Yields and Economics

Oil yields mostly run 0.2–0.7%. Branches from isolated sun-exposed trees yielded 20% more oil than trees growing in dense bush. Branches from 25-year old trees gave twice as much as 45-year olds. The first period of maximum yield (Jan.–Apr.) precedes the period of strong cambial activity in the spring, the second follows formation of summer wood. In one Minnesotan study (Perala and Alban, 1982) in an area with annual rainfall ca 6 dm, annual temperature ca 4°C, pH 5–6, the annual litterfall was 5709 kg/ha organic matter on loam soil, (Glossic Eutroboralf), and 5253 on a sandy soil, both soil types located on a gently undulating till plain. On the loam soil, the litter contained 54 kg N/ha, 6.8 kg P, 16 K, 83 kg Ca, and 4.8 kg Mg/ha. On the sandy soil there was 41 kg N, 5.1 kg P, 12 K, 60 kg Ca, and 4.1 kg Mg/ha. It was concluded that harvesting entire above-ground trees would remove up to 3 times more nutrients than harvesting just the bole. On loam, stands of Picea glauca ca 39 years old, had 2187 trees/ha with a mean height of 14.4 m, a mean DBH (outside bark) of 15 cm, and a basal area of 41.1 m2/ha. On the sandy sites, stands 41 years old had 2718 trees per ha, with mean hight of 13.7 m, a mean DBH of 14 cm, and basal area of 44.9 m2/ha.


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity of various spruces ranges from 2 to 14 MT/ha, standing biomass from 88–325 MT/ha. The stand of Picea glauca on the loam had standing biomass of 17.4 MT/ha in foliage, 35.8 in branches, 11.2 in bole bark, 91 in bole wood, 35 in root and stump, for an above ground total biomass of 155 MT, a total tree biomass of 190 MT/ha. There was a total of 0.2 MT in the understory and herbaceous biomass as well. The stand on the sandy soil had standing biomass of 11.7 MT/ha in foliage, 16.4 in live branches, 13.7 in dead branches, 12.0 in bole bark, 89 in bole wood, and 31 in stump and root for an aboveground total biomass of 143 MT/ha, a total biomass of 175 MT/ha. There was a total of 0.01 MT/ha in the understory and herbaceous layers as well (Perala and Alban, 1982). Ford (1982) reported a net annual aboveground DM of 26.7 MT/ha in Scotland, the total including roots of 35 MT/ha. One of the highest values reported for coniferous forest in the temperate zone. The needle area index was 10–11 at age 16, 7–8 at age 18. Branch area index was 3.6 and the ratio of main stem bark surface area to ground area was 0.4 at age 16. The standing crop of this 17 year old plantation contained 56.3 MT bole, 25 MT branches, 26.6 MT foliage, 4.9 MT fine roots, and 20.1 MT thick roots, for a total of ca 133 MT. The basal area was 26.6 MT/ha (Ford, 1982).

Biotic Factors

For extensive lists of pests and diseases affecting Picea spp. see Browne, 1968 and Agriculture Handbook 165. Nematodes include: Criconema menzeli, Crconemella spp., Hemicycliophora similis, H. sp., H. uniformis, Hoplolaimus galeatus, Pratylenchus penetrans, P. pratensis, Rotylenchus robustus, Tylenchorhynchus maximus, T. sp., and Xiphinema americana. (Golden, p.c., 1984)


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw