Fast growing when young, the Norway spruce (Picea abies) still manages to approach 100 feet in size as it slows its pace as it ages. An easy way to quickly identify this evergreen is to look for its characteristic upward-angled branches that have many drooping side twigs lined in needles that readily sway like pendulums in the breeze. Grow this spruce in U.S. Department of Agriculture winter hardiness zones 3 through 7.
Although appropriately named, the Norway spruce is native to a much larger expanse of Europe than parts of Norway. The native range extends from Scandinavia eastward across the Balkans and Russia, and then even farther into Siberia. South of 47 degrees latitude, it grows only in the cooler elevations above 1,250 feet in central and southern Europe. It has naturalized in Great Britain, the Pyrenees, and the North Central United States and Canada, growing so well as to masquerade as a native species.
Growing 70 to 140 feet tall and about 20 to 30 feet wide at maturity, Norway spruce is at first perfectly shaped like a cone when young and becomes spirelike in old age. Its orange-brown bark contrasts with the short, blunt, four-sided needles that are medium to dark green. The branches are horizontal to upward-angled with side branches and twigs that dangle downward. Female cones appear in late spring and are a vivid magenta-pink color on branch tips, and receive pollen from the scatter and comparatively smaller and drab colored male cones. After pollination, female cones enlarge and elongate to be narrow cylinders of green, maturing to brown. Cones can be 4 to 8 inches in length, dangling from the tips of the drooping branches.
Grow Norway spruce in full to partial sun exposures, receiving no less than six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. It grows best in sandy acidic to neutral pH soils that are cool, moist and rich in organic matter. Topsoils deeper than 2 feet are much better than thin soil layers over hardpan or rock. This spruce transplants easily. According to The Gymnosperm Database, it is the most widely climate-adaptable spruce as it handles windy cold coastal areas as well as continental interior regions with bitterly cold winters and warm summers.
Making a suitable tree for a large landcape on a campus, cemetery or spacious yard, it works well as a visual screen, windbreak or shade tree, too. Norway spruce is an important timber tree, especially in Europe. It is the most common Christmas tree in Great Britian. A herbal tea is made from the young, tender leafy twigs. Dwarf varieties are used as ornamental specimen shrubs for building foundation beds, rock gardens or containers.
Many cultivated varieties exist, most being dwarf in size or having accentuated weeping habits and branches. The bird's nest spruce is a dwarf selection of the Norway spruce, given the cultivar name Nidiformis. A groundcover selection is named Reflexa. Other dwarf, weeping varieties include Acrocona, Aurea, Clanbrassiliana (the Tolleymore spruce), Gregoryana, Inversa, Little Gem, Ohlendorffii and Pygmaea.