Spruce and Hemlock Identification

Spruce and Hemlock Identification


How to tell them from other trees: The spruce and hemlock belong to the evergreen class and may be told from the other trees by their leaves.  There are 2 great videos at the end of this post that will show you up-close needles and branches.

These are much shorter than the needles of the pines but are longer than the leaves of the red cedar or arbor vitae. They are neither arranged in clusters like those of the larch, nor in feathery layers like those of the cypress. They adhere to the tree throughout the year, while the leaves of the larch and cypress shed in the fall.

The spruces are pyramidal-shaped trees, with tall and tapering trunks, thickly covered with branches, forming a compact crown. Spruce are widely distributed throughout the cold and temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. They often form thick forests over extended areas.

There are eighteen recognized species of spruce. The Norway spruce has been chosen as a type for this group because it is so commonly planted in the northeastern part of the United States. Hemlock is represented by seven species, confined to temperate North America, Japan, and Central and Western China.

How to tell Spruce from Hemlock: 

The needles and branches of the spruce are coarse; those of the hemlock are flat and graceful. The individual leaves of the spruce, are four-sided and green or blue on the under side, while those of the hemlock, are flat and are marked by two white lines on the under side.

THE NORWAY SPRUCE ( Picea excelsa)

Distinguishing characters: The characteristic appearance of the full-grown tree is due to the drooping branchlets carried on main branches which bend upward.

Leaf: The leaves are dark green in color and are arranged spirally, thus making the twigs coarser to the touch than the twigs of the hemlock or fir. In cross-section, the individual leaflet is quadrilateral, while that of the pine is triangular.

Form and size: A large tree with a straight, undivided trunk and a well-shaped, conical crown.

Range: Northern Europe, Asia, northern North America.

Soil and location: Grows in cool, moist situations.

Enemies: The foliage of the spruce is sometimes affected by red spider, but is apt to be more seriously injured by drought, wind, and late frosts.

Value for planting: Commonly planted as an ornamental tree and for hedges. It does well for this purpose in a cool northern climate, but in the vicinity of New York City and further south it does not do as well. It loses its lower branches at an early age, and becoming generally scraggly in appearance.

Commercial value: The wood is light and soft and is used for construction timber, paper pulp, and fuel.

Other characters: The fruit is a large slender cone, four to seven inches long.

Spruce Comparisons 

The white spruce ( Picea canadensis) may be told from the Norway spruce by the whitish color on the under side of its leaves and the unpleasant, pungent odor emitted from the needles when bruised. The cones of the white spruce, about two inches long, are shorter than these of the Norway spruce, but are longer than those of the black spruce.

It is essentially a northern tree growing in all sorts of locations along the streams and on rocky mountain slopes as far north as the Arctic Sea and Alaska.

It often appears as an ornamental tree as far south as New York and Pennsylvania.

The black spruce ( Picea mariana) may be told from the other spruces by its small cone, which is usually only about one inch in length. In New England it seldom grows to as large a size as the other spruce trees.

It covers large areas in various parts of northern North America and grows to its largest size in Manitoba. The black spruce has little value as an ornamental tree.

The Colorado blue spruce ( Picea parryana or Picea pungens) is commonly used as an ornamental tree on lawns and in parks. It can be told from the other spruces by its pale-blue or sage-green color and its sharp-pointed, coarse-feeling twigs. Its small size and sharp-pointed conical form are also characteristic.

It grows to a large size in Colorado and the Middle West. In the Eastern States and in northern Europe where it is planted as an ornamental tree, it is usually much smaller.

HEMLOCK ( Tsuga canadensis)

Distinguishing characters: Its leaves are arranged in flat layers, giving a flat, horizontal and graceful appearance to the whole branch. The individual leaves are dark green above, lighter colored below, and are marked by two white lines on the under side.

The leaves are arranged on little stalks, a characteristic that does not appear in the other evergreen trees.

Form and size: A large tree with a broad-based pyramidal head, and a trunk conspicuously tapering toward the apex. The branches extend almost to the ground.

Range: The hemlock is a northern tree, growing in Canada and the United States.

Soil and location: Grows on all sorts of soils, in the deepest woods as well as on high mountain slopes.

Enemies: None of importance.

Value for planting: The hemlock makes an excellent hedge because it retains its lowest branches and will stand shearing. In this respect it is preferable to the spruce. It makes a fair tree for the lawn and is especially desirable for underplanting in woodlands, where the shade from the surrounding trees is heavy. In this respect it is like the beech.

Commercial value: The wood is soft, brittle, and coarse-grained, and is therefore used mainly for coarse lumber. Its bark is so rich in tannin that it forms one of the chief commercial products of the tree.

Other characters: The fruit is a small cone about ┬ż of an inch long, which generally hangs on the tree all winter.

Watch these great videos on identifying Norway Spruce and Eastern Hemlock.

Join Our Lawn Care Business Managers
Mailing List

Sign Up to receive product updates and special offers from our team. We have a lot of great free tools to share with you.