Engelmann Spruce– A True Native of Larimer County

The oldest Engelmann Spruce is over 900 years old

 

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Engelmann Spruce

It seems to me one of the most confusing aspects of spruce trees is their many alternate names. One of the names for the Engelmann Spruce is white spruce, as well as silver spruce and the generic-sounding mountain spruce. At a glance, the various species look very similar, too. The Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) is a native of North America. Listed in Flora of Colorado (Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015) it is native to Colorado as well as Larimer County! Unlike the White Spruce written about last week, internet sources concur this one is a native and show its range being the western part of the continent, south to the New Mexico/Texas border and north to the British Columbia/Yukon border. Possibly the confusion with the white spruce is due to the two trees hybridizing? The Gymnosperm Database mentions that the oldest Engelmann spruce is in Colorado and has attained at least 911 years of age.

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White Spruce needles and cone on the left, Engelmann Spruce needles and cone on the right.

The fine needles on the twigs and branches of the Engelmann spruce are much more evenly spaced than those of the white spruce, reminding me of a bottle brush. From a distance, this is hard to distinguish. When examined closely, the spruce cones also have subtle differences; the ends of the Engelmann spruce cones appear to be toothed. Comparing the tagged park specimens, the cones of the Engelmann are also somewhat larger than those of the White Spruce. The Engelmann spruce is the second most common tree used for the Capitol Christmas tree with nine appearances since 1970.

The New York Times Style Magazine of December 3, 2017 short article “Chasing Pine” discussed a number of edible uses of conifers, including the historical spruce beer. Modern chefs make pine ice cream, pine aioli, and custard. Others use a spruce oil in drinks, Some sprinkle a spruce-sugar concoction on cookies.

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Engelmann Spruce bark

The Englemann Spruce listed on the tree guide (D193) is at the Southwest corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive.  You can access this corner by turning onto Sheldon Drive from Mulberry   and parking near the intersection with City Park Drive. That corner of the park is lined by deciduous trees on the eastern and northern edges. Numerous conifers form the south edge along the lakeshore. The marked tree sits in front of the larger spruces, between an Oakleaf Mountain Ash and a Baker Blue Spruce. It has a perfect conical Christmas tree shape.

 

 

 

December is for Christmas Trees and Our First is a Champion

A popular tree to decorate for Christmas

Every year trees are brought to the nation’s capitol to adorn the Capitol lawn, outside the Whitehouse, and sometimes in the interior of the Whitehouse. The National Christmas Tree has been displayed, cut or planted, in the President’s Park as well as other spots. This tradition started in 1923. The most common tree used is a variety of spruce.

Although the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tradition began before 1970, every year since then a different national forest has provided the tree. The White Spruce has been the tree of choice twelve times, the most of any single species. The tagged White Spruce (Picea glauca) in the City Park Arboretum near the intersection of City Park and Sheldon Drive is not only a native to Colorado, but a state champion tree. This tree probably does not call to mind a tree to decorate, though, as it is quite tall and somewhat spindly looking.

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The State Champion White Spruce

The USDA shows this species as having a very northern range, including Wyoming, but not Colorado. The Forest Service shows its range as even more restrictive. North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) appears to agree with the USFS. The map on the Gymnosperm Database  also shows the distribution as very northern, mostly Canada, but goes on to list a number of states where the tree is native, again Wyoming but not Colorado. North American Trees says these trees do not reach maturity until 250-300 years and the Gymnosperm Database says the oldest tree, growing in the Yukon, is over 668 years old.

White spruce lumber has been used for sounding boards in violins and other instruments, for pulp, general construction, and Christmas trees. The National Christmas Tree Association suggests their short needles make them ideal for hanging ornaments.  I examined the branches of the tree I bought for my house this year, and I’m thinking it very well may be a white spruce.

The tree is significant for wild life and its roots were used by Native Americans to weave baskets and bind canoes. A British Columbian website includes making snowshoes and bows in its uses. Resin was turned into a gum to stick arrowheads to arrows. Like most of the other trees reported on thus far, this one, too, has medicinal properties, including antiseptic, respiratory, and wound care. It has also been investigated for its relation to diabetes!

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The needles and cone of the White Spruce

This specimen (A94) can be located by studying the tall conifers at the Northeast corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive. There are ten trees on this corner, but only two of them are conifers. The more northern of the two is the tagged tree, although I suspect the second tree is also a white spruce.

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White Spruce bark