Native to northern and central Europe, the Norway spruce (Picea abies) adapts well to many landscape soil conditions and climates, except those that are hot-summered. Growing 40 to 60 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide, this needled conifer needs ample space in the landscape to reach full size. Plant it in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 2 through 7.
The Norway spruce grows with a strong central trunk and leader. From the trunk emanate horizontal branches with a slight upward angle toward their tips. From the main branches grow the tertiary branches or branchlets. These branchlets noticeably droop or hang freely downward in a pendulous manner.
The needles reveal that they have a flattened four-sided shape. These stiff, shiny, deep green leaves range in length from one-half to 1 inch in length, and each attaches to the twig on a raised woody peg called a sterigma. Needles live for about four years before dropping away. Grasp a needled branch, and your hand gets prickled.
Male and female cones occur on the same tree but on different branches. The male cones shed pollen from their yellow-brown structures while the immature rounded female cones appear on branch tips. The female cone first looks rosy red and elongates once pollinated, becoming a 4- to 6-inch-long light green cone that hangs and points downward. At autumn maturity, the cones become light brown and the toothed scales dry and open to release the seeds.
Norway spruce's bark looks red-brown and scaly, later turning gray-brown with thin flaking scales or plates.
American plantsman Michael Dirr, author of "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs," notes that hundreds of cultivated varieties exist of the Norway spruce. Two selections include nidiformis, which is more commonly called the bird's nest spruce, growing 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, and pendula, which is the generic name assigned to many weeping-branched, smaller-sized varieties.