common pica, northern pica, fir, Norwegian pine, Picea abies: plant, cultivate, multiply

Picea abies, fir or common spruce, is the largest tree in France. This conifer is often sold as a Christmas tree, but it is also an ornamental evergreen species in its horticultural forms, easy to grow as long as the climate is cool.

common pica, northern pica, fir, Norwegian pine, Picea abies


Scientific N. Picea abies

Synonyms Picea vulgaris, Picea excels, Picea obovata, Pinus abies

Origin northern and central Europe

Flowering may June

Flowers cnes



Foliage persistent

Heightup to 50 m

Plant and cultivate

Hardiness hardy, to -29C

Exposition sunny


Acidity slightly basic acid

Humidity normal wet

usehorticultural forms in isol, Christmas tree

Plantationfall until march

Multiplicationseedlings, cuttings, grafts

Picea abies, the common spruce or fir is a evergreen coniferous tree belonging to the family Pinaceae. Its distribution is European (north and center) and boreal. This conifer is native of France, naturally present between 700 and 2000 m in the Vosges, the Alps and the Jura. It is also introduced on almost all the French forest territory. The wood of common spruce is of good quality and it is also grown as a Christmas tree.

Picea abies is the largest tree in France and it also holds the world record for longevity, with small Swedish specimens over 7000 years old!

In its botanical, giant and fast growing form, it is poorly suited to growing in a garden. On the other hand, its more compact horticultural varieties have their interest.

Description of common spruce

The fir tree is a tree up to 50 m high, narrow (about ten meters), cylindrical with a always conical point.

Its numerous branches are often slightly straightened upwards, while the twigs they carry hang downwards. Its needles, short (1 to 2 cm), fine and prickly, are numerous and all point towards the end of the branch.

Its bark is scaly. common spruce secretes a resin which makes it sticky and smelly.

The separate male and female flowers, but on the same tree, are united in cones. The female cones gathered at the end of branches, are hanging: a pine cone about fifteen centimeters long and narrow, sometimes very red when immature, then ripening, falling whole to the ground.

Common spruce horticultural cultivars

they are numerous, but relatively few available except at a few specialized nurseries.

  • Picea abies ‘Clanbrassiliana’, ‘Gregoryana’ et ‘Maxwellii’ are dwarf common spruces. They are all quite small shapes, conical or globular, sometimes as wide as they are tall and very dense. Their exact shape varies a little, their growth is slow.

  • Picea abies ‘Ohlendorfii’ and ‘sudden’, called bird’s nest spruce or spreading dwarf spruce are prostrate and low shapes, surprisingly disc-shaped, wide and flat, with a depression in the center. Their growth is slow.

  • the Picea abies weeping ‘Pendulums’, ‘Inverse’, ‘Reflex’ are characterized by drooping ghostly silhouettes, grafted in high-stem or formed into nurseries.

  • Picea abies ‘Pygmaea’ and other similar selections are very small, very dense, round, compact domed or soil surface shapes, quite remarkable in rockery. Their needles are so dense that no branch can be seen.

How to cultivate the common spruce?

Picea abies is tolerant of neither too hot nor too dry climates ; he shows a preference for a fresh sandy soil, but accepts any type of soil from very acid to a little basic, although it grows slower in very humid or basic soil. It supports peaty or sandy and poor soils, on the other hand, does not grow in calcareous soils.

In contrast, the common spruce has need a freshnessor even constant humidity at the roots. He is able to live in really shallow soil, provided that the freshness is permanent there.

Picea abies is easy to transplant and moreover supports transplantation even with subjects which are already of good size. However, choosing to plant small plants is usually just as good, as it quickly catches up with larger ones and develops a root that is more resistant to strong winds.

When young, spruce can settle for partial shade, or less, but then it needs sunlight to grow and retain most of its branches.

Like any conifer, it will be preferably transplanted from November to March.

L’species type is really too large and its growth is too fast (about 1 m more each year): it has no place in gardens except in large parks or as a Christmas tree to recycle. You should also know that its needles, slow to decompose, change the nature of the soil under the tree, moreover, its rooting is broad and superficial. It is generally hostile to other surrounding species, and it is not always easy to revegetate the space after having cut it down: therefore avoid replanting your Christmas tree to keep it if it is a spruce tree, unless it is is to recycle it the following Christmas.

On the other hand, the horticultural varieties have a real landscape interest.

Other uses of the fir tree

Apart from its usefulness as a forest species, spruce is recognized as a medicinal plant : its resin has antibiotic, antiseptic and expectorant properties. The resin can be useful, for example, in relieving abscesses.

Young male or female cones can be eaten.

The young twigs pleasantly perfume the herbal teas.

How to propagate the common spruce?

The wild form multiplies by seed. Fresh seeds germinate effectively after cold stratification.

For horticultural forms:

  • grafts
  • terminal shoot cuttings 5 to 10 cm, semi-mature or mature from September to October, in a cool place: they can take up to 12 months to take root.
  • tender shoot cuttings in August, stifled.

Species and varieties of Picea

About forty species in this genus

  • Picea orientalis, oriental spruce
  • Picea pungens, blue spruce
  • Picea omorika, Serbian spruce; another Christmas tree
  • Picea engelmannii, l’épinette d’Engelmann
Plants of the same genus

Source: Au Jardin, conseils en jardinage by

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