Sitka Spruce – Picea sitchensis
Other Names: Coast West Spruce, Coastal Spruce, Tideland Spruce, Western Spruce, Yellow Spruce, Silver Spruce, Menzies Spruce, yak-tsu (Quileute), sulu'x (Quinault), ts'alka'yats (Swinomish).
Distinctive Characteristics: Named for Sitka, Alaska, this tall evergreen conifer has a straight, columnar trunk, with a narrowly conical crown and horizontal branches. Old trees may have no branches for the lowest 100 ft. (30 m). Although it is one of the tallest tree species, Sitka Spruce can also grow stunted from wind, forming hedges along beaches. It is able to live directly on the coast because it has adapted to tolerate salt spray. It is, however, intolerant of shade. It generally propagates on nurse logs, resulting in inflated buttressed bases, which are sometimes partially hollow underneath. It can also reproduce from epicormic branches.
Distribution: Native to Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, along coastal fog belts, inland to 124 mi. (200 km). Elevation: sea level to 2,296 ft. (700 m).
Ecosystem: Common along cool, moist headlands, alluvial floodplains, and within rainforest and bogs in pure stands or with Western Hemlock, Mountain Hemlock, Yellow Cedar, Redwood, Grand Fir, Douglas Fir, Shore Pine, Red Alder, White Spruce, Western White Pine, Port Orford Cedar, Black Cottonwood, and Lodgepole Pine.
Maximum Age: Approximately 800 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 317 ft. (97 m) in height; 50 ft. (15.24 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: Deer, elk, porcupines, bears, and hares browse the new foliage, and squirrels feed on the cones. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons roost in the branches.
• Medicine: The sap provided an effective medicine for burns, boils and various skin infections, venereal diseases, internal swelling, heart trouble, and toothaches. The inner young bark was made into a tea or chewed to treat sore throats (Quinault). A decoction of the roots was used in the treatment of diarrhea (Kwakiutl). The bark, cambium, and sap were taken as a laxative (Nuxalk). Cones and bark were used for pain relief. Sapling bark and ripe cones were used for steam beds and stomachaches (Bella Coola). The sap, cones, and bark were used in various ways to treat rheumatism (Bella Coola, Gitksan, Haisla, Hanaksiala, Oweekeno).
• Food: The inner bark, fresh or dried into cakes, was eaten (Haida, Tlingit, Kitasoo, Tsimshian). It was also ground into powder and used as a thickener in soups or bread. The sap was chewed as a kind of gum (Makah, Haisla, Hanaksiala, Oweekeno, Southern Kwakiutl, Makah and Quinault). Newly grown needle tips are edible and may be used to flavor spruce beer.
• Fiber: The roots, peeled, split, and dried, were used to make cordage, baskets, and water-tight hats and baskets (Makah, Haida, Tlinglit, Bella Coola, Hahwunkwut, Kwakiutl, Oweekno, Poliklah, Quiluete, Nitinaht Quinault, Quileute).
• Tools and Objects: The softened, sticky pitch of the tree was warmed and used as glue and a protective, varnish-like waterproof coating on boats and harpoons (Nitinaht, Quinault, Quileute). The samplings were made into pole snares to hunt mammals (Quileute). The wood was used to make toys (Hoh).
• Art and Ceremony: The boughs of sharp needles were used widely for spiritual protection and in ritual, for protection from death and illness (Bella Coola). They were used by shamans, hunters, and fishers during preparatory and purification rituals (Tsimshian); rubbed on skin for protection against evil (Thompson); used in winter dance ceremonies to make costumes and protection for the dancers for ceremonies to initiate children (Nitinaht). Similarly, used to hit and rub boys to increase strength and tolerance (Hanaksiala) and in the girls' puberty potlatch ceremony for protection (Hesquiat).
• Shelter: The wood was used as building material (Hoh, Quileute, Hesquiat).
Modern Uses: Sitka Spruce was highly exploited during World Wars I and II to make wooden aircraft frames and propellers. The trees are still used to make boats and oars. It is also used to build ladders and scaffolding, as well as musical instruments such as pianos, harps, violins, and guitars. It is also manufactured into pulpwood lumber, plywood, pulpwood, and various paper products.
Threats and Conservation: Not threatened.