The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Trees & Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Norway Spruce


Scientific Name
Picea abies (L.) H.Karst.


Plant Family
Pine (Pinaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
May-June Flowering



Norway Spruce is an upland evergreen conifer, growing 60 to 90 feet high with a straight trunk and spreading branches. The branchlets of the mature trees noticeably hang downward.

Twigs are mostly hairless and have an orangish cast. The bark is grayish-brown with reddish undertones becoming scaly with age.

The needles are rectangular in cross-section, shiny dark green, from 1/2 to 1 inch long, sharp pointed and spread from all sides of the twig on very short stalks (woody pegs) called sterigmata.

Male flowers are reddish at first, then turning yellow-brown and elongate as they develop into the pollen stage, then they wither away. These appear in large groups at the end of twigs. The female flowers are more purple, forming oblong-cylindric light brown cones. Female flowers are usually found in the upper branches of the tree.

Cones are cylindrical, hang downward and are 4 to 6 inches long. The cone scales are numerous, thin and irregularly toothed. Cones open the year after maturing and are the largest cones of the spruces.


Names: The genus name Picea is the classical Latin name for the 'Pine' but Linnaeus assigned it to Spruces. The species name abies, is the Latin name for the Fir tree. The author names for the plant description are two-fold. First to classify, in 1753 was 'L.' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended in 1881 by ‘H. Karst’, which refers to Gustav Karl Wilhelm Hermann Karsten (1817-1908) German botanist, professor of plant physiology at the University of Vienna who is the author of many plant descriptions.

Comparisons: See White Spruce, Picea glauca. Black Spruce, Picea mariana. There are cultivars of Norway Spruce developed for landscape use that have been developed (at one time, 133 were listed) that change some of the characteristics, such as having yellowish-green needles or a dwarf habit.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Norway Spruce Norway spruce branchlets

Above: 1st photo - Typical pyramidal shape of the tree. 2nd photo - Typical pendant branchlets of mature trees.

Below: 1st photo - Cones hang down - longest cones of the spruces. 2nd photo - bark is browish with reddish undertones.

Norway Spruce cones bark

Below: Orangish color of the twig with buds at the end; rectangular shape of needles. 2nd photo: Note the irregular teeth of the cone scales.

Norway Spruce twig Norway spruce cone

Below: Soft new growth emerging from the buds. 2nd photo: A large grouping of developing flowers.

Norway Spruce new growth Norway Spruce new flowers

Below: 1st photo - The developing male flower and note the sterigmata, or woody pegs that attach the needle to the twig. 2nd photo - The developed male flower.

Norway spruce needles Norway Spruce

Below: The old stand of Norway Spruce in the Upland Garden near the east maintenance gate.

Norway Spruce in the Garden


Notes: The traditional Christmas tree of Britain and Northern Europe, Norway Spruce is an introduced species from northern Europe that is found in the Northeastern States of the U.S. as far west as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois and also in Canada from Ontario eastward. In Minnesota the only reported counties having a population are Fillmore, Anoka, and Lake of the Woods. That is probably old data as it can now be found in the landscape of a number of places in the metro area besides the Garden.

Gardener Cary George believed the trees in the Upland Garden were planted by Martha Crone in the late 1940s in honor of Theodore Wirth whose desire was to have all of Wirth Park contain trees familiar to his native Switzerland. Martha Crone's Garden Log however contains no note of her planting them in any year after the upland was added to the wildflower garden in 1944; nor does she list them on her 1951 Garden Census although the trees are at least that old. They may have already been on that part of Glenwood Park when that area was added to the Garden in 1944. The idea relating to Theodore Wirth is well placed as the Norway Spruce is quite prominent in the old Glenwood Park, particularly along Theodore Wirth Parkway and all appear to be the same age as those within the Garden confines. This tall stand is at the east end of the Upland Garden near the east maintenance gate.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.