As a Christmas tree, white spruce has excellent foliage color, short stiff needles and a good natural shape. Needle retention is better than some of other spruce species.
White spruce is a medium-sized conifer found in northeastern United States and throughout Canada. It is the state tree of South Dakota. White spruce has a cone-shaped crown, and
when grown in the open develops a conical crown which extends nearly to the ground. This habit along with the spreading branches give it a nice appearance for use as an ornamental. Trees often reach 80-140 feet in height and 1.5 to 3 feet in diameter. The oldest white spruce may reach 300 years of age.
Leaves (needles) are needle-shaped, and are often somewhat crowded on the upper half of the branchlets. Needles are usually 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, blunt at the tip and green to bluish-green in color. Typically, needles are 4 angled (4-sided) and are present on short twig-like structures on the stem (sterigmata). When crushed, needles have a disagreeable odor, thus, the common name of “skunk spruce” or “cat spruce” is often used by those familiar with the species. The bark is thin, light grayish-brown and is produced in irregular, thin, scaly plates.
The species is monecious, meaning both male and female flowers (strobili) are found on the same tree. Pollination occurs in the spring and cones mature in one season. Cones are slender about 1 1/4 to 2 inches long and ripen in early fall. Cones are pale brown at maturity with scales that are thin, flexible, and rounded. Cones usually fall from the tree shortly after seeds are shed.
White spruce is tolerant of a considerable amount of shade. Its best growth is on moist, acidic, loamy soils and is often found on stream banks, lake shores and adjacent slopes.
The species seldom occurs in pure stands but grows in association with balsam fir, black spruce, eastern hemlock, trembling aspen, and other northern hardwoods.