Article and photo by Donna Iverson
"Ugly," said a neighbor when I asked him what he thought about Norway spruce. He said he had one Norway spruce in his yard and he would cut it down if it didn't hide the garbage cans.
"Oh dear," Norway spruce happens to be one of my favorite trees. I know when it gets old it can look ratty and bedraggled but its inner beauty is what I see. To me, it looks like a tree from ancient times especially when growing next to century-old Michigan stone buildings. They compliment each other, calling up the mysteries of the past. A look right out of legend.
In fact, Norway Spruce is an ancient tree...one of the oldest on the planet. When its genome was sequenced in 2013, scientists tagged its origin at about 10,000 years ago. It really isn't indigenous to Norway but arrived there around 1500 BC from the Black Forest in what is now southwestern Germany.
But don't tell that to Norwegians, as far as they are concerned, it is their national tree. Every Christmas, Norway sends a huge Norway spruce to London, Edinburgh, and Washington DC to thank these respective countries for helping defend them during WWII.
My paternal great grandfather and great great grandfather who emigrated from Bergen around 1880 brought their love of the Norway spruce with them. Although long gone, the Norway spruces they planted still grace farmland in Whitehall where they settled. The trees are enormous and stand as sentries protecting the farm buildings from wind and weather.
It's only recently that I learned to identify Norway spruce from a distance. It has droopy branches, well, actually branchlets, which hang downward and a pyramid shape. These characteristics make it easy to spot. In the spring the tree has long cones, which vary in size from 9 to 17 inches. The tree can live for centuries and grows to 100 even 200 feet like the tallest Norway spruce in the world which resides in Slovenia.
Animals love it. It provides winter cover for deer, grouse, rabbits, and the woodcock as well as roosting branches for the hawk and owl. It's wood is used to make baskets and musical instruments, like the violin, including the Stradivarius.
Foragers eat the bark (don't recommend it) and foodies clip the new young spruce tips to toss in salads and flavor cocktails. It is especially popular with chefs of the New Nordic cuisine. But unless you are an experienced forager, or can go with an experience forager, the safest advice is to leave it alone.
As for me, I like that it connects me with my Scandinavian ancestors who planted the Norway spruce to remind them of home. The Norway spruce outside my apartment window does the same for me.