The genus and species, together called the Latin or binomial name, of the Norway spruce is Picea abies. Botanists, taxonomists and horticulturalists use binomial names to avoid the tangle of numerous and sometimes conflicting common names assigned to a species. For the layperson, the genus and species tells you characteristics of the tree and how it is related to others in the plant kingdom.
In the 18th century, Swedish physician Carolus Linnaeus revolutionized how scientists classify and talk about plants. Rather than grouping plants in terms of evolutionary advancement, Linnaeus classified them according to shared traits and relationships to each other. In the classification scheme developed by Linnaeus, classification groups became increasingly specific and their members shared more traits in common. The final taxonomic group is the genus. For the Norway spruce, the genus Picea includes all spruce trees. The second part of the name--abies--refers to the species.
According to George A. Petrides in the Peterson field guide "Eastern Trees," members of the genus Picea share several key traits. When cut in cross-section, needles appear square-shaped and emerge singly from and arranged all around the branch. Cones hang from the branch, are thin-scaled and do not fall apart on the tree. Spruce bark tends to be rough and dark in coloration. The Norway spruce fits all of these descriptions, in addition to dropping cones quickly, having dark green needles up to an inch in length, and in silhouette, possessing droopy branches.
Petrides adds that spruce trees tend to prefer northern regions, ranging as far north as the tree line and proceeding well into the tundra, where dwarf versions of spruce trees grow. As the name suggests, the Norway spruce originated in Europe and was introduced in the United States, where it currently follows the pattern of other spruce trees, growing primarily in northern parts of the country.
Humankind has found many uses for spruce trees. The trees are popular landscaping and Christmas trees, and the wood is used for paper pulp, piano construction, interior finishing and for building boats. Extractions from spruce trees can be used for medicines, varnishes and turpentine, and parts of the tree can serve as a food source. Uses of the Norway spruce again coordinate with uses for the Picea genus as a whole. The conservation group Euforgen names the Norway spruce as the most economically important conifer in Europe for its uses as timber and for paper pulp. In the United States, the Flora of North America website reports the Norway spruce as the most cultivated spruce species.
Within the Picea genus, other common U.S. species include the red, white and black spruce trees. Family is the next taxonomical level above genus. The Picea genus belongs to the Pinaceae or pine family, a cone-producing group of trees with needles. Genera belonging to this family include the pine, larch, fir and hemlock.