The genus name Picea comes from the Latin word pix, which means “pea” or “resin,” while abies means “fir.” Early botanists misidentified these trees, confusing them with firs, because of their flat needles.
Spruces are important trees, both commercially and for ornamental uses, along with firs and pines. There are some 37 to 50 spruce species found throughout the temperate and cold regions in the Northern Hemisphere.
Because Norway spruce is faster growing than native species, it is often planted for reforestation purposes. It is also used as an ornamental. Although people tend to confuse spruce and fir trees, in botanical terms they are very different. The needles on spruce branches have prominent bases, while fir branches are smooth. Spruce needles are generally four-sided and can be rolled between the fingers. Norway spruce is the exception, as its needles are flat and pointed. Finally, spruce needles drop more quickly than do fir needles when they dry out; accordingly, firs make better Christmas trees.
Norway spruce is a large tree with a straight conical crown that grows to 50 metres in the wild. The 'Argenteospica' cultivar grows to 20 metres in Quebec.
The fissured bark on Norway spruce is reddish-brown, becoming darker or grey with age. The reddish-brown or orange-brown twigs are mostly hairless. The needles growing on top of the twigs are more curved and pointed toward the tips than the needles on the sides. Although they are flattened, they are still four-sided. There is a marked contrast in colour between young and older needles. Female cones are 10 to 16 cm long and green or yellow when young, maturing to shiny brown.