Picea rubens, generally called red spruce, is one of the more important coniferous trees in the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. Also called yellow spruce, West Virginia spruce, eastern spruce, and he-balsam, it is a medium-size tree that may grow to be more than 400 years old. Red spruce wood is used for making paper, for construction lumber, and for musical stringed instruments. Its many uses rival those of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).
The range of red spruce extends from the Maritime Provinces of Canada west to Maine, southern Quebec, and southeastern Ontario, and south into central New York, eastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, and Massachusetts. It also grows south along the Appalachian Mountains in extreme western Maryland, and eastern West Virginia, and north and west in Virginia, western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee.
Red spruce sometimes occurs in pure stands, and is a major component of several forest types, or it may be found mixed with other conifers and hardwoods. Its shallow root system, thin bark, and flammable needles make trees of all ages very susceptible to fire damage. The acreage of red spruce originally present in the southern Appalachians has been reduced to a fraction of what it once was by fire and clear cutting; it is also susceptible to damage from acid rain.
The most important insect enemy of red spruce is the spruce budworm, Choristoneura fumiferana. Although red spruce is much less vulnerable to damage than balsam fir or white spruce, largely due to later bud flushing in the spring, much damage and mortality occur in stands containing large quantities of mature balsam fir.
Red spruce wood is light in color and weight, straight-grained, and resilient. The wood of red spruce, white spruce (Picea glauca), and black spruce (Picea mariana) cannot be distinguished with certainty by either gross characteristics or minute anatomy, and all three are usually marketed simply as eastern spruce. Chief uses are for lumber and pulpwood, with limited amounts going into poles piling, boatbuilding stock, and cooperage stock. Flakeboard and plywood have been made from spruce in recent years. It is also the preferred wood for piano sounding boards, guitars, mandolins, organ pipes, and violin bellies. A unique use of red spruce was spruce gum, an exudate that accumulates on trunk wounds. This was the raw material for a flourishing chewing-gum industry in Maine during the last half of the 19th century and early years of this century.
Forests with red spruce support diverse wildlife, including many songbirds, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, and woodcock, and provide important winter cover for deer and moose. Bird, porcupines, bears, deer, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and red squirrels all browse or eat various parts of the trees, included twigs, foliage, and vegetative and reproductive buds. Mice and voles consume and store significant amounts of spruce seeds in preference to those of balsam fir, suggesting one reason for the low ratio of spruce to fir seedlings commonly found in naturally regenerated stands.
Excerpted and edited from Blum 1990.
- Blum, B.M. 1990. Picea rubens Sarg., Red Spruce. In Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, tech. coords. 1990. Silvics of North America: Vol. 1. Conifers. Agriculture Handbook 654. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. Available online from http://na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/Volume_1/picea/rubens.htm..
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