Friday, June 26, 2009

Utah Field Guide - Engelmann's Spruce

Englemann Spruce (picea engelmannii)

Our campground of the week is Spruces in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains just east of Salt Lake City. Not surprisingly Spruces is named after it's most common tree species, the Englemann spruce. Engelmann spruce are a species we all know living in the United States because of one of our strongest national traditions: Christmas trees. Englemann spruce are often chosen as Christmas trees for their perfect conical shape, well spaced yet gently drooping branches, and vibrant blue-green needles.

Engelmann spruce are conifers in the pine tree family. They are the most widespread spruce in America and are one of the most important trees species in the southern Rockies ecosystem. Found above 8,500 in elevation, Engelmann spruce typically grow in sub-alpine environments mixed in with other similar coniferous trees like blue spruce, sub-alpine fir, and white fir. The trees do best growing in shady conditions with adequate moisture. Living at high-elevation where the growing season is short, they grow slowly, but can live very long lives. Englemann spruce will grow steadily for 300 years and it's not uncommon to find 500-600 year old individuals. Trees as old as 800 years old exist.

Mature Englemann spruce range between 80-130 feet tall with a diameter up 3 feet. Their needles (see the photo above) are blue-green in color, about 1 to 1 1/4 inches in length and spread from a central branch. They grow off the twig evenly in all directions. The needles are sharp to the touch, but not very stiff. The bark is (see photo) thin and scaly and flakes off in small discs. The cones are yellow or purplish-brown and hang from the upper branches of the tree. The cones scales are papery thin with sharp, jagged edges.

Fun Facts about Engelmann Spruce:

1) The tree is named after botanist George Englemann. Englemann was a physician and a botanist and lived in St. Louis in the 18th century.

2) Wood from Engelmann spruce are used in pianos, violins and aircraft parts.

3) Traditionally the tree was used for a variety of purposes including weaving into baskets, carving into canoes, roofing for shelters, dressings for wounds or cuts, and chewed for cough control.

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