In Britain the Norway Spruce
is the traditional species used to decorate our homes at Christmas.
The Norway spruce was a native species in the British Isles
before the last Ice Age. it did not return naturally with the melting
of the ice but was reintroduced here before the 16th Century.
Its botanical name is Picea abies. Picea is from
the Latin pix, alluding to the pith or resin some species
produce. The second part of the name, abies harks back
to when this tree was classified in the Abies or fir genus.
Its natural distribution ranges across the Pyrenees, Alps and Balkans,
northwards to south Germany and Scandinavia, and eastwards through
the Carpathian Mountains and Poland, to western Russia.
The Norway Spruce is a very useful timber tree - two of the trade
names for this leading world timber are "Whitewood" and
"White Deal". It is used for boxes, packing cases, building,
joinery, paper pulp and chipboard.
Over the years it has also been used for fuel, charcoal, potash,
Burgundy Pitch for medicinal plasters, tanning, scaffolding poles,
ladders, spars, oars, masts for boats, flooring, musical instruments,
lining parts of furniture, packing cases, fencing, roofing for agricultural
The tree is conical in shape. It has somewhat sharp rich-green
needles and long rounded cones. The bark is brown and scaly, and
flakes off the surface. The branches of young trees grow upwards.
When the tree matures the branches at the bottom droop slightly.
Trees first bear the red-brown hanging cones on the topmost branches
when 30-35 years old.
The inner bark was at one time used to make baskets and canoes
and the shoots were made into spruce beer!
The tree was also used for medicinal purposes. The resin was a
source of Jura turpentine. This contains the drug Resina
Pini and was used to make healing ointments and skin pastes.
A tea made from the young shoots was used in folk medicine to
ease respiratory troubles such as influenza, coughs and catarrh.
The needles were added to bath water.
When boiled in milk whey, the cones made a remedy for scurvy.
Norway spruce plantations provide dense year-round cover for many
small birds and animals; goldcrests and long-tailed tits find both
shelter and food in the tree top.