The Gymnosperm Database


The flag of Labrador shows a black spruce twig. It is one of the few flags to bear the image of a conifer.


Mist rises from a black spruce forest on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. These trees show the characteristic "club-headed" crown, with high branch density in the top meter or so of most trees [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2005.08.06].


Ontario's northern forest, growing around a rock in Killarney Provincial Park: clockwise from top are Abies balsamea, Tsuga canadensis, Thuja occidentalis, Pinus resinosa, Pinus strobus, and Picea mariana.


Foliage on a young sapling on the slopes of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. Note short needles, pale green new foliage [C.J. Earle, 2004.07].


Cones on a tree in a recently-burned muskeg, central Alaska [C.J. Earle, 1991.07].


Bark on a tree in Maine, about 25 cm diameter [C.J. Earle, 2003.07.14].


River in Alaska bordered by P. glauca forests surrounded by muskeg containing scattered small P. mariana [Dr. Linda B. Brubaker].


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Conservation status

Picea mariana

(Miller) Britton Sterns, et Poggenburg 1888

Common names

Black spruce, bog spruce, swamp spruce, épinette noire (Canadian French) (Taylor 1993).

Taxonomic notes

Synonymy (Taylor 1993):

"To a limited extent, Picea mariana hybridizes with P. rubens, e.g., on disturbed sites in eastern Canada. Natural hybridization with P. glauca, though reported, remains unverified" (Taylor 1993).


Trees to 25 m tall and 25 cm dbh (often much smaller, occurring as krummholz near the arctic treeline); "crown narrowly conic to spirelike. Bark gray-brown. Branches short and drooping, frequently layering; twigs not pendent, rather slender, yellow-brown, pubescent. Buds gray-brown, ca. 3 mm, apex acute. Leaves 0.6-1.5(2) cm, 4-angled in cross section, rigid, pale blue-green, glaucous, bearing stomates on all surfaces, apex mostly blunt-tipped. Seed cones 1.5-2.5(-3.5) cm [in cultivation rarely to 4.5 cm]; scales fan-shaped, broadest near apex, 8-12 × 8-12 mm, rigid, margin at apex irregularly toothed. 2n=24" (Taylor 1993). Cones fusiform, matt, dark purple ripening purple-brown (c.f. P. rubens ovoid, glossy, orange-brown).

Distribution and Ecology

Canada: all provinces; France: St. Pierre and Miquelon; USA: Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine at 0-1500 m in muskegs, bogs, bottomlands, and relatively dry peatlands (Taylor 1993). See also Thompson et al. (1999). Hardy to Zone 2 (cold hardiness limit between -45.6°C and -40.0°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Distribution data from USGS (1999).

Big tree

Height 24 m, dbh 50 cm, crown spread 6 m, located in Taylor County, WI (American Forests 1996). Vladimir Dinets (e-mail, 2003.10.18) reports "some unusually tall stands can be seen in eastern Labrador. I measured (by shadow comparison) a tree near Muskrat Falls (Goose Bay area) to be appr. 30 m tall."


A crossdated age of 330 years was recently secured for a tree in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario (Girardin et al. 2006).



Although it is a small tree, vast tracts of it are currently being logged in Canada, primarily for pulp but also for timber (for example, the chopsticks provided at fast-food restaurants in the Far East are often P. mariana). Once (as of 2017) it has served as the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.


Readily encountered in its native habitat throughout Canada, Alaska, and northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine. I was particularly interested by its occurrence near the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, where it forms an alpine krummholz shrub, with trees only a few decimeters tall bearing cones. This is the only place I have seen it form alpine (rather than arctic) krummholz.


Black spruce is the provincial tree of Newfoundland (Taylor 1993), and appears on the flag of Labrador.


American Forests 1996. The 1996-1997 National Register of Big Trees. Washington, DC: American Forests. This is a dated citation; the big tree register is now available online.

Girardin, M.-P., J.C. Tardif, M.D. Flannigan and Y. Bergeron. 2006. Synoptic-scale atmospheric circulation and boreal Canada summer drought variability of the past three centuries. Journal of Climate 19(10):1922-1947.

This page co-edited with Michael P. Frankis, 1998.12.

See also

British Columbia Ministry of Forests. [no date]. The Ecology of the Boreal White and Black Spruce Zone, accessed 2009.03.25 (PDF file).

Burns and Honkala (1990).

Little and Pauley (1958).

Morgenstern and Farrar (1964).

The FEIS database.

Last Modified 2018-01-20