Black Hills Spruce

Black Hills spruce plug seedlings

Black Hills spruce seedlings in burlap bags and raffia with ruler for sizing

What is the difference between white spruce and Black Hills spruce? Black Hills spruce is a variety, or subspecies, of the widely distributed white spruce. White spruce has bluish-green foliage while the Black Hills spruce has typically denser and bright bluish-green foliage. Black Hills spruce is also a slower growing species than white spruce. While Black Hills spruce has been given the variety distinction, it is now considered to be a geographical variety, rather than a botanical variety. The information that follows refers to the Black Hills spruce, but also applies to the species as a whole.

Black Hills spruce is a tolerant species and is considered a climax species in the higher elevations. It gradually replaces quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides ) which forms the lower border of the spruce stands. Black Hills spruce can be planted in the eastern one-fourth of South Dakota and many communities east of the Missouri River.

Black Hills spruce is a very long-lived species with a life span of 150 to 350 years. The species in Canada has a similar life span.

The two national champion Black Hills spruce trees are in South Dakota. One is near Terry Peak Lodge. It is 113 inches (287 cm) in circumference, 86 feet (26 m) tall and has a crown spread of 30 feet (9 m). The other co-champion is in the Black Hills National Forest along Bear Butte Creek. It is 98 inches (249 cm) in circumference, 96 feet (29 m) tall and has a crown spread of 28 feet (8.5 m). As a comparison, the national champion white spruce is 116 inches (295 cm) in circumference, 128 feet (39 m) tall and has a crown spread of 25 feet (8 m). It is in Koochiching County, Minnesota.

The wood of the Black Hills spruce is light, soft, and straight-grained. The primary use for white spruce in Canada is as a source of pulp for making paper. Because of the limited local market, Black Hills spruce is not an important timber species.

Black Hills spruce has very few serious pests. This is one reason that its greatest value is as an ornamental or as a windbreak. The color is attractive and the dense, conical form is popular in landscape design. The tree is very tolerant of alkaline soils and drying winter winds.

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