Sunday, November 11, 2012

Colorado Blue Spruce

Species name: Picea pungens var. hoopsii

Common name: Hoopsii spruce, Hoopsii Colorado Blue spruce

Location: Ontario

I had wanted to post back-to-back blogs to contrast the difference between spruces and firs, since many people when they're first starting out at plant identification (me included) have a hard time telling them apart. I didn't get a chance to post a blog yesterday and I had a different blog planned for today, so I guess I'll just have to post two blogs today :)

The Colorado spruce, as I'm sure you can guess, is native to the alpine regions of Colorado in the United States. It has been transported all around the world by humans, favoured for its blueish tint to the needles at the tips of the branches. As the branch grows and the needles age, they lose their waxy frosting that gives them the blue tint, and turn green. The Colorado spruce is very intolerant to shade, and so the needles on the inside of the tree are shed as they become too shaded by branches above them. While the Colorado spruce is a popular Christmas tree, all spruces lose their needles when the tree dries out, so they can be very messy by the time it's time to compost the tree. The needles compared to fir trees, which don't lose their needles when dry, are also much sharper and not as nice to handle, and can be quite dangerous to small children with sensitive skin and to animals (compare the photos of the needles above to the needles in my blog post about the white fir HERE). Spruces also don't smell as wonderful as fir trees do; the typical "Christmas smell" that I think of when I think of Christmas is cinnamon, apples, the smell of fir trees, and a roasting turkey. Yum!

This variety of spruce tree is actually quite misleading when it comes to the "typical" form of spruces. It actually looks absolutely nothing like a typical Colorado spruce, and actually much more like a black spruce (which you can read all about HERE). Black spruces, except when young, have this type of characteristic shape; very dense branch growth towards the top of the tree that point almost straight outwards but with very short branches, then the longer branches towards the bottom of the tree are much longer, droop downwards, and are much more sparse compared to the top of the tree. The Colorado spruce, on the other hand, should be shaped almost like a pyramid with very dense branches throughout the length of the tree, and branches pointing nearly straight outwards. The Hoopsii spruce, a variety of the Colorado spruce, was selected by humans to have that drooping, very narrow growth habit.

As for the uses of the Colorado spruce, it is rarely used in the lumber or paper and pulp industry unless it is found growing in a stand of trees intended for pulping. It grows incredibly slowly and adds very little girth with each growing season, so is not very useful for lumber. The Navajo use the bark from the Colorado spruce as a medicinal item; it is steeped like a tea with other herbs to treat various medical conditions. The Colorado spruce is also the state tree of Utah and (of course) Colorado.