In 1991, the white spruce was proclaimed Manitoba's provincial tree emblem. The white spruce was selected based on its extensive range, its contribution to Manitoba's development and its use in landscaping.
The white spruce is a coniferous tree that grows 24 - 28 m in height with a trunk 61 - 91 cm in diameter at maturity. It has a thick triangular spire-like crown.
Mature white spruce tree
The lower branches droop slightly but have upturned tips. The bark of the white spruce is grey-brown, and the needles are 1.5 - 2 cm long, square in cross-section, stiff, and blue-green in colour.
Mature white spruce tree
Seed cones are 2.5 - 6 cm in length, scales are fan-shaped and seeds are winged.
White spruce grows in most of the climatic and environmental zones found across the province. The tree grows best in moist, acidic (pH of 4.0 - 5.5) loamy soils.
It is a long-lived tree with an average life expectancy of 200 years. Under ideal conditions a white spruce may reach 300 years and a few trees of this vintage can be found in Manitoba's Duck Mountain Provincial Park today!
Coniferous or Softwood -Cone-bearing trees with needle or scale-like leaves belonging to the botanical group gymnospermae.
The most common diseases of the white spruce are needle and stem rusts, root diseases, trunk rots and mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum).
Insect pests include bark beetles, wood-boring insects, weevils, spruce budworm and yellowheaded spruce sawfly.
White spruce is an important food source for the spruce grouse which feeds entirely on spruce needles in the winter. Chickadees, nuthatches, white-winged crossbills and pine siskin remove seeds from open cones or eat the seeds off the ground. Red squirrels clip twigs and feed on the buds in the spring and eat white spruce seeds. Porcupines often eat the bark of young trees, and black bears strip the bark to get to the sweet sapwood.
The white spruce has been part of Manitoba's natural history for thousands of years.
Retreat of the Glaciers
The continental glaciers began to retreat about 12,000 years ago, and vast tracts of land were exposed once again. But the rock and debris deposited by the moraines was barren and harsh.
The glaciers left an inconsistent landscape in south-western and central Manitoba. In places the topography was gently rolling, and in others, the moraines created uplands and hilly features which were ideal conditions for the white spruce.
Meanwhile, in the vicinity of what is Spruce Woods Provincial Park today, the huge Assiniboine Delta was carrying meltwater into Glacial Lake Agassiz and depositing fine sand over a large area of south-central Manitoba.
Ancient winds shaped these sand deposits into 6 to 30 metre sand dunes along the shoreline. These deposits would eventually create ideal white spruce and dry prairie habitat which is now a treasured ecoregion in the province.
Visit the park and see the dunes from the Spirit Sands/Devil's Punch Bowl trails.
The wood of the white spruce is light, straight-grained and flexible. While it is an important commercial tree for pulpwood and construction lumber it is also used for specialty items such as sounding boards, paddles, oars, and boxes.
Characteristically odourless & tasteless, white spruce wood is suitable for food containers too.
The white spruce is a favoured tree for use in landscaping due to its colour, short stiff needles and good natural shape. It has an elegant pleasing form.White spruce is a popular Christmas tree because of its cone-shaped crown and spreading branches. It takes seven years for a nursery transplant to grow to a height of two metres.
Roots, Bark & Boughs
Historically, aboriginal cultures had many uses for the white spruce. The long surface roots were chewed and used to make watap, a cord used to sew together birch bark canoes.
Young trees were used to make snowshoes and bows. The bark was also used to make cooking pots and trays for gathering berries.
Boughs were used for bedding and temporary shelter and rotten wood for smoking moose hides.
Resin & Pitch
The spruce resin was worked into the seams to waterproof canoes and could have been chewed as a natural chewing gum.
Pitch was heated and used as glue to fasten skins onto bows and arrowheads onto shafts. It was also used as a poultice for a variety of skin irritations.
Resin, watery sap and teas of boiled needles and twigs contain Vitamin C and other nutrients. This mixture was used as a general cure-all for treating tuberculosis, scurvy and coughs.