A truly renaissance tree
Beautiful stands of Sitka spruce frame our coastline, adding to its beauty and mystique. Its wood is very strong for its weight, which has led to its many specialty uses in aircraft frames, racing shells, ladders and folding bleachers. It’s not surprising that its lumber is also valued for construction requiring lightweight strength. The wood of the Sitka spruce possesses outstanding resonant qualities, and it is used in pianos, organs, guitars and violins. Its long fibers also make it second only to the western hemlock as a papermaking wood. When it comes to trees, the Sitka spruce is your classic overachiever.
Caption: The Wright brothers' Flyer was built using Sitka spruce.
You’ll find the Sitka spruce in moist, well-drained sites along the coast, seldom more than 20 miles inland. In fact, its needles and bark are resistant to salt spray.
The largest of the spruces, the Sitka can grow 125-180 feet tall and 3-5 feet in diameter with an open crown of somewhat pendulous branches. Its cones are very distinctive. One to four inches in length, rounded and irregularly toothed, they hang downwards with very thin scales. Its bark is gray and smooth on small trunks, turning to a dark purplish-brown on older trunks.
The Sitka spruce is one of the hardiest trees, and it can grow in poor soils and on exposed sites where few other trees can grow successfully. Its understory usually consists of thick, shade-loving ferns, trees and shrubs, making it the ideal habitat for a large variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds.
The Sitka spruce prefers the cool, foggy environment of a maritime environment with abundant moisture throughout the year, relatively mild winters and cool summers. The Sitka spruce weevil attack the terminal leaders of Sitka spruce when it is grown away from the foggy coastal environment. This damage kills the tops of the the growing young trees and causes them to be formed like bushes.
Natural regenerating stands will self-thin over time, but respacing and thinning help with density and yield. Clearcutting followed by planting is the most common timber management practice for this fast-growing species.