spruce is found on the summits and upper slopes of a few of our
highest mountains. It grows on well-drained but moist (and usually
rocky) soil, at elevations of 4,000 to 6,700 feet. Above 5,000
feet, it naturally combines with the Fraser fir to form dense
Red spruce leaves are yellow-green, 1/2 to 5/8 inch long, pointed
and shiny. Cones are 1 1/4 to 2 inches long, with scales that
are smooth-margined. When mature, they are light reddish-brown
and lustrous. Cones begin to fall as soon as they ripen, and all
are off the tree before the following summer.
The tree is narrowly conical in outline, commonly reaching a height
of 60 to 80 feet and a diameter of 1 to 2 feet.
The dark brown to gray bark is broken into irregularly shaped
scales, with reddish inner bark showing between.
Red spruce wood is light, moderately soft, strong and elastic.
Its combined elasticity and strength make it well-suited for use
in musical instruments. In the early days of flight, it was the
preferred species for airplane frame construction. Little, if
any, currently is harvested in North Carolina.
Though red spruce is a long-lived tree (400 year-old trees have
been found), its continued existence on the high peaks of North
Carolina may be questionable because, in part, of air pollution.