Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
You can almost feel the dry, thin air and high-altitude sunlight of the Rocky Mountains when you see a Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). The needles are short and narrow on stout twigs, the better to conserve moisture. Each needle ends in a point that will stick you if you poke your bare hand among the branches. A pair of mourning doves nests every year in my tree, maybe from an instinct that the dense branching and sharp needles protect them.
I’m guessing deer don’t browse this tree, even in spring when the new growth of most shrubs and trees is tender and tempting. A new shoot on a Blue Spruce is a chubby, soft spear of crowded young needles, dotted with drops of a strong-smelling, clear, sticky resin. I’ve never seen one eaten.
The color of the tree can vary from green to a silvery blue because the wax that coats the needles (another adaptation to dry air) varies in thickness. The bluer the better for some gardeners so nurserymen are always looking for chance trees with brighter blues. There are also dwarf, creeping, and weeping forms of the tree. One slow-grower has the pungent name "Fat Albert." By the way “pungens” means sharp or pointed in Latin.
Blue Spruce will grow in a range of climates, but does not tolerate hot, humid conditions. In spite of its dry native region it likes a moist, well-drained soil. It’s grown as a Christmas tree. If you buy a live one, keep it in its pot and in a cool place over the winter, unless the ground is unfrozen and you can dig a planting hole.
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