Sitka spruce – Picea sitchensis 

blue-green branch of Sitka spruce

At a Glance

  • Family: Pinaceae
  • Plant Type: evergreen tree
  • Distribution: native to the maritime coastal zone from northern California all the way up to Alaska and inland along major rivers. Widely introduced in the United Kingdom, coastal Norway and northern central Europe.
  • Habitat: full sun and moist soil at low-mid elevation areas with mild temperatures and high humidity
  • Height: up to 2-300 feet
  • Cones: 1-4″ slender cones, thin scales, irregularly toothed with papery bracts
  • Cone Season: form from April to May, drop in the fall
  • Leaves: evergreen hard spiky needles (12-25 mm) that wrap around the stem
  • Generation: perennial
  • Bark: smooth gray bark on small trees, becomes a darker brown on older trunks

Restoration and Conservation

  • Sitka spruce provide hiding spaces and habitat for a variety of birds and animals such as deer, elk, and rabbits
  • Tolerant of salt spray allowing it to form forest canopies close to coastal areas, early in dune succession
  • Contributes to healthy, diverse forests as a canopy species

Ethnobotany/Commercial Uses

  • Spruce needles were believed to provide protection and ward off evil thoughts by some tribes
  • The inner bark could be eaten, or dried and put into cakes or ground into a powder
  • Roots could be burned to remove the bark then dried and made into hats or rope. Some tribes also used the roots to weave baskets for water
  • Sitka spruce was also used medicinally by many tribes because of its antiseptic properties. It was used to treat sores, swelling, and wounds, or could be chewed to treat throat problems or toothaches.
  • Sitka spruce produces high-grade, lightweight lumber and is made into many valuable products like oars, ladders, guitars, boats, and even planes back in WWII (British Mosquito bombers).

Resources

For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah Verlinde-Azofeifa at severlin@uw.edu.