Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
From its huge native range across northern Russia and Scandinavia to inland Norway, the Norway spruce has moved worldwide, thanks to gardeners coping with cool and cold climates. On the other hand, there’s a specimen seventy feet tall around the corner from me that has endured many summer days above 90 degrees and weeks without rain here in the middle of North America. So it’s an adaptable tree.
In its favorite conditions (cool and moist) it can reach two hundred feet tall but planted trees over 100 feet tall are rare. Its architecture looks meant to survive snow. The branches emerge from the trunk at sturdy angles and the branchlets droop almost straight down, as if to shed snow. The branchlets give the tree a distinctive texture, as if it’s hung with swags. The tree also stands out for its cones. They are the largest (up to seven inches) in the spruce family.
Along with being adaptable, this species is mutable. Nursery folk have found many forms: dwarfs, creepers, columns, tabletops, and weepers. One of the dwarfs, Little Gem, is widely available. Likewise, Bird’s nest spruce, which crowds so many short branches together that it looks ready for hatching eggs. Another tiny one is Clanbrassiliana Stricta.
Norway spruce is grown as a Christmas tree, an indication that it tolerates shearing. To reach market size (five to six feet) takes up to ten years. For cultivars such as ‘Little Gem,’ shearing gives the trees a tidy, uniform texture and a symmetrical shape, making them a good match for a formal garden.
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