Your life has been changed by a Sitka spruce.
You may not know how, yet, but read on.

A tree with no name

Sitka spruce was originally collected in 1791 and again in 1896. It was not named until 1827.

And even then, it didn’t stick. The last change was in 1855, the scientific classification to its current name (picea).  

You have probably seen it

Sitka spruce is the largest species of spruce and the fifth-largest conifer in the world. Trees that are larger include Giant sequoia, Coast Redwood, Kauri, and the Western Redcedar. 

RG# 95-GP Records of the Forest Service General Subject Files Negative Number:473081

Growth Characteristics

These giants can grow over 300 feet high and huge. Many large trees were harvested before careful measurements were made. Today, there are only a few large Sitka spruce located on the Pacific Coast.

Currently, the largest spruce in the world, the Queets Spruce, is located in the Olympic National Park. It measures 245 feet high and has a dbh (diameter at breast height – a standard tree measurement) of 14 feet. The Queets spruce, for instance, adds more than a cubic meter of wood to the trunk volume (estimated to be 12,200 cubic feet) each year!

Long lives

Queets Spruce is only around 350-450 years old which is comparatively young. Sitka spruce trees live a long time and can exceed 700 years old. The previously recorded largest Sitka Spruce tree is located at Klootchy Creek Park near Seaside, Oregon.

In 2007, the Klootchy spruce was blown down–it was over 750 years old. This tree had a circumference of 56 feet and was 207 feet tall and was considered Oregon’s first tree by Oregon Heritage Tree Committee.

Habitat

On their own, these giant trees provide great habitats for birds of prey and larger mammals. They grow however, very close together creating a huge, dense canopy. The Klootchy Creek tree had a crown spread that measured 93 feet.

The down side to a dense canopy is that the variety of secondary plant growth can be somewhat limited. Common plants found around Sitka spruce include Ferns, violets, huckleberry, rhododendron, elderberry, and more.

At the root

One might think that trees this large and old would have huge root systems. Not necessarily.

Soil conditions, particularly drainage, affects spruce root formation. In very wet areas, this tree will have a shallow root system with long lateral roots. These long roots reach out and graft onto other Sitka spruce tree roots.

While this connection gives the tree great strength and stability, it also makes it more susceptible to root rot. The thin bark makes this tree susceptible to fire and other damage.

Pests and diseases such as rusts, weevils, and beetles are fairly minimal. Animals such as elk, deer, bear, rabbits, squirrels, and porcupines can do significant damaged. Blow down is one of the most common problems.

But this also creates an opportunity

Sitka spruce is known as the “mother tree” and as a female proctor and guardian symbol. In dense areas, such as around Sitka, Alaska, the dense tree canopies could have provided protection from inclement weather.

There is another level of protection as well. Fallen trees create perfect environment for new seedlings and become “nursery logs” during the regeneration process. In some particular poor soil areas, this may be the only viable way to get seedlings to thrive.  

Uses

This fast-growing tree is often used for reforestation. Spruce will thrive on poor soil and exposed sites that other trees won’t.  It is more tolerant to wind and saline ocean air and may out grow native species.

Spruce is fairly clear with few knots. That makes it a perfect wood for creating musical instruments (like piano, harp, lute, etc.). The sounding board on that instrument may have been created from Sitka spruce.

Sitka spruce wood is often used to make stringed instruments (Royalty free Unplash)

Spruce was also used to create ladders, boat masts, and planks (as for ‘walking the plank’).

It was also used for other products where ‘high strength to weight ratio’ is needed. This can include aircraft wing spars, turbine blades for wind energy systems, and more.

The Wright brothers’ used Sitka spruce in their experimental airplane. Sitka spruce which was considered a strategically important aluminum substitute for aircraft built before World War II.

And in a pinch, you have even enjoyed a spruce beer or used medicine sourced from the spruce (Chinese, for insomnia).

Look for

A mixed stand of tall and wide conifers closely grouped together. Sitka spruce will have scaley bark, four-sided, one-inch needles (they are sharp), and cylindrical cones around three inches long high in the tree. Branches on older trees could be 30 plus feet off the ground.

REFERENCES:
–USDA Forest Service (https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_1/picea/sitchensis.htm) and Forest and Grassland Health program (www.fs.usda.gov/main/r6/forest-grasslandhealth)
–Wikipedia, Sitka spruce (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picea_sitchensis)
–Alaska Woods (https://alaskawoods.com/10-interesting-facts-about-sitka-spruce-trees/)
–Woodland Trust Organization (https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk)
— Stilbene Glucoside, a Putative Sleep Promoting Constituent From Polygonum Multiflorum Affects Sleep Homeostasis by Affecting the Activities of Lactate Dehydrogenase and Salivary Alpha Amylase, Wei et al. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29093287/)
–The Oregon Encyclopedia (https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/sitka_spruce/#.XvtjCl-SmUk)
–Seaside Stories (https://www.seasideor.com/seaside-stories/klootchy-creek-parks-sitka-spruce/)

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)

The Sitka spruce is a remarkable tree found on Oregon’s coastline. Named for the Sitka Sound in Alaska, this tree typically grows in a narrow strip of the coast from southern Alaska to northern California. It is able to grow in this environment because its needles and bark are resistant to salt spray.

Sitka spruce wood has many unique qualities that allow it to be used in a variety of different ways. Because the wood is very strong for its weight it is frequently used in aircraft frames, racing shells and ladders. The wood is also an excellent conductor of sound and is used in pianos, organs, guitars and violins.

Next time you listen to music or take a flight think about the Spruce tree and take the opportunity to walk among these wonderful trees next time you visit Coastal Oregon.

The Giant Spruce of Cape Perpetua was recently designated an Oregon Heritage Tree. According to Oregon Coast Magazine, this tree is easily accessed by hiking 1 mile along the Spruce Trail from the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, which is just off Highway 101, 3 miles south of Yachats.