Spruce Trees and Forests

By Liliana Usvat

In the mountains of western Sweden scientists have found a Norway Spruce tree, nicknamed Old Tjikko, which by reproducing through layering has reached an age of 9,550 years and is claimed to be the world’s oldest known living tree.


Native Americans Stories

  • Spruce trees are mythologically important plants among Southwestern tribes, where they are symbols of the sky and directional guardians of the north. According to Hopi myth, the spruce tree was once a medicine man, Salavi, who transformed himself into a tree.
  • For this reason, spruce trees are considered particularly sacred to the Hopis, who use spruce boughs to adorn kachina dancers.
  • In the Pima flood myth, the father and mother of the Pima people survived the deluge by floating in a ball of spruce pitch. Among northern tribes, spruce trees (like other evergreens) are associated with peace and protection.
  • Spruce is a particular symbol of good luck to the Salish tribes, and spruce roots are used as fiber for weaving basketry regalia by many Northwest Coast tribes.
  • Northern Algonquian tribes used to bundle spruce and fir needles into sachets or herbal pillows to protect against illness.
  • Spruce trees are also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Spruce Clans include the Hopi tribe, whose Spruce clan is named Salab.
  • The Cherokee also have a Winter Spruce Dance among their tribal dance traditions.

Food and medicine


The fresh shoots of many spruces and pines are a natural source of vitamin C.Captain Cook made alcoholic sugar-based spruce beer during his sea voyages in order to prevent scurvy in his crew. The leaves and branches, or the essential oils, can be used to brew spruce beer.

The tips from the needles can be used to make spruce tip syrup. In survival situations spruce needles can be directly ingested or boiled into a tea. This replaces large amounts of vitamin C. Also, water is stored in a spruce’s needles, providing an alternative means of hydration. Spruce can be used as a preventive measure for scurvy in an environment where meat is the only prominent food source.

In 1536, the French explorer Jacques Cartier, exploring the St. Lawrence River, used the local natives’ knowledge to save his men who were dying of scurvy. He boiled the needles of the Eastern White Cedar to make a tea that was later shown to contain 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams.

Spruce cones are used to make a tea that relieve colds and helps maintain good health. Of all the parts of the spruce tree, some Elders believe the cones make the best medicine (Andre 1995). Cones are picked year round from the tops of young trees. Usually five to 15 cones are gently boiled for 10 – 15 minutes in a pot of water. The longer they boil, the stronger the medicine becomes.

Branches are sometimes put into the pot with the spruce cones. Some people prefer straining the liquid before drinking it. Spruce tea relieves coughing and sore throats and chests. Those who are sick with colds can take it three or four times a day for about five days. Some Gwich’in drink between one-quarter cup and one cup of spruce tea every day to stay healthy. You can drink this medicine when it is hot or after it is cooled, though it should never be gulped. Many people keep the medicine in a jar in the fridge for later use.

Sticky gum is the clear, sticky sap that can be found year round on spruce trees and in green firewood. This is new sap that has recently run from the wood of the tree. The gum can be used to soothe irritated skin and, when applied to cuts, helps healing and reduces the chance of infection.

Mary Kendi, from Fort McPherson, said to spread sticky gum on warm canvas and then place it on the chest. The dressing is kept on until it drops off by itself. This remedy helps relieve the symptoms of chest and tuberculosis (TB).

Spruce gum can also be boiled, strained and cooled to make a tea. Like spruce cone tea, this tea is used to relieve colds and maintain good health. It tends to be very concentrated though, so only small amounts are sipped.

Spruce gum or pitch is an excellent medicine. Spruce gum tea is drunk for stomach ulcers or upset stomach. The tea is gargled at the onset of a sore throat or used as mouth wash for gum disease or canker sores.

Spruce gum can be used as is or made into a salve to heal cuts. Clear soft gum can be applied on a bandage for a wound or to extract a sliver. Spruce gum salve is also put on skin rashes like cold sores and eczema.

Skin rashes can be bathed with tea made from pitch, inner bark or spruce boughs then the salve is applied and the affected area is covered with a light gauze.

Spruce tip steam treatment:

  1. Prepare this medicine as a tea to drink for a cold and a sore throat or to use as a steam for a head or chest cold.
  2. The spruce tips are collected from either young or older spruce trees. The spruce tips are rinsed well to wash away dust and pollen.
  3. In a pot of water, move the tips around and keep them under the water.
  4. Bring to a gradual boil and let the medicine simmer for a while.
  5. Turn the stove off. Steep the medicine a little while longer then cool it down.
  6. Deep breathing is recommended when steaming with this medicine.
  7. The nasal passages will start to clear.


The word “spruce” entered the English language from Old French Pruce, the name of Prussia. Spruce was a generic term for commodities brought to England by Hanseatic merchants and the tree was believed to have come from Prussia. According to a different theory, some suggest that it may however be a direct loanword from a Polish expression Prus which literally means “[tree / timber] from Prussia”. That would suggest that the late mediaeval Polish-speaking merchants would import the timber to England and the English would pick up the expression from them.

A spruce is a tree of the genus Picea a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the Family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal (taiga) regions of the earth. Spruces are large trees, from 20–60 metres (66–200 ft) tall when mature, and can be distinguished by their whorled branches and conical form.

The needles, or leaves, of spruce trees are attached singly to the branches in a spiral fashion, each needle on a small peg-like structure called a pulvinus.

The needles are shed when 4–10 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained pulvinus (an easy means of distinguishing them from other similar genera, where the branches are fairly smooth).

Spruce Forests


Forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains had covered approximately 140 km² on peaks and ranges. Today this forest type occupies less than 70 km². Much of this forest loss is due to logging, followed by slash fires. The Waterrock Knob fire was composed of different group of plant species than are normally found in burned spruce and fir forests.

The tree layer of this stand consists of fewer than expected stems and has low basal area. The shrub layer is very dense, which may reduce successful tree reproduction. The herb layer growth is not typical of young, disturbed spruce and fir stands.

These vegetation characteristics suggest that possibly a hot fire in conjunction with a steep rocky slope and shallow soils have been some of the reasons for the reduced development of a typical spruce and fir stand. Burned soil has been an important factor in determining earlier and present vegetation patterns and species composition.

It is time to plant more spruce forests…..

A number of larger animals are supported by fir and spruce forests, such as moose, deer, elk, birds, snowshoe hares, and other small mammals.

Effects on bird populations after fire in fir and spruce forests varied. Of the 41 avian species observed in 3 or more studies comparing post fire and adjacent unburned forests, 22% are consistently more abundant in burned forests and 34% are more abundant in unburned forests. In general, woodpeckers and aerial foragers are more abundant in burned forests and foliage grazing species are more abundant in unburned forests.

Within the spruce and fir community type, trees often lose their lower branches, becoming unavailable to hare and other small mammals for food or cover during the seven to nine months of winter. This makes larger mammals more densely populated in fir and spruce forests.

Fire does not displace fauna that are dependent on fir and spruce forests. When fir and spruce begin sprouting, they are utilized for food and the patches of trees remaining provides shelter.

Because of the heterogeneity in fir and spruce forests, patches of trees are always left in nature. Fire suppression, on the other hand, alters the natural patch dynamics, thus greatly reducing the number of mammals present.

Normally a blue Spruce Tree lives 600-800 years.

Blog 67-365


About lilianausvat

My Websites: Books: http://www.ucbooksale.com/ Math Website: http://www.mathematicsmagazine.com Reforestation: http://lilianausvat.blogspot.ca/ Real Estate: http://www.lilianausvat.com/
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