Alaska State Tree: Sitka Spruce

Alaska Marine Highway

Alaska's State Flower is the "Forget-Me-Not. Forget me not flowers are very fragrant in the evening and night time, though there is little or no scent in the daytime. They can be annual or perennial plants. Their seeds are found in small, tulip shaped pods along the stem to the flower.


Ecosystems in Alaska range from grasslands, mountains, and tundra to thick forests, in which Sitka spruce (the state tree), western hemlock, tamarack, white birch, and western red cedar dominate the landscape.

Sitka Spruce, Alaska's state tree,  is the largest of all spruce, with a tall and straight trunk from a buttressed base and a broad, open, and conical crown of horizontal branches. Throughout southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, Kenai Peninsula, and up the northern edge of the range extends just north of Girdwood, you can find Sitka spruce.

This is the primary timber tree in Alaska because of its size and for the fact that it produces high-grade lumber for many uses. Sitka spruce was used in airplanes (including “The Spruce Goose”) and is used in musical instruments such as guitars. Because this species has no insect or decay resistance qualities after logging, it is generally recommended for construction purposes as indoor use only (ex. indoor drywall framing). Spruce wood, when left outside can not be expected to last more than 12–18 months depending on the type of climate it is exposed to.

Sitka Spruce makes up more than 20 percent of the hemlock-spruce coastal forests of Alaska. The largest old growth trees in southeast Alaska have trunk diameters exceeding 8 feet and are 500 – 700 years old! As you make the drive form Cooper Landing to Seward, look for the change from forests dominated by White Spruce and Lutz Spruce to those of Sitka Spruce.

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), known also as tideland spruce, coast spruce, and yellow spruce, is one of the most prominent forest trees in stands along the northwest coast of North America. This coastal species is seldom found far from tidewater, where moist maritime air and summer fogs help to maintain humid conditions necessary for growth. Throughout most of its range from northern California to Alaska, Sitka spruce is associated with western hemlock in dense stands where growth rates are among the highest in North America.

Sitka spruce bark is gray, smooth, thin, becoming dark purplish-brown with scaly plates. The cones hang at the ends of twigs and open and fall at maturity. Seed cones are reddish- to yellowish-brown and hang from the crown. Their seed scales are thin, wavy, and irregularly toothed. Pollen cones are red.

Needles are light green to bluish-green, stiff, and sharp. They are four-sided but slightly flattened with two white bands running along the upper surface and two narrower bands along the lower surface. The needles are arranged spirally along the twig and are attached by small pegs which remain on the twig after the needles fall.

The Sitka spruce is frequently host to the spruce weevil. The weevil lays its eggs in the bud at the top of the tree. If it is warm enough, the eggs hatch and the new growth wilts and eventually dies. Cool ocean breezes and summer fog deter the weevil and allow Sitka spruce to grow freely.

No part of the large Sitka spruce needs to go to waste. The leaves and branches, or the essential oils, can be used to brew spruce beer. The tips from the needles can be used to make spruce tip syrup. Native Americans in New England also used the sap to make a gum which was used for various reasons, and which was the basis of the first commercial production of chewing gum. In survival situations spruce needles can be directly ingested or boiled into a tea, replacing large amounts of vitamin C.  Spruce can be used as a preventative measure for scurvy in an environment where meat is the only prominent food source. Water is stored in a spruce's needles, providing hikers with an alternative water source in emergency situations.

Aboriginal people living on the coast used Sitka spruce extensively. From the roots, they fashioned beautiful water-tight hats and baskets. Roots also provided materials for ropes, fishing lines, and twine to sew boxes and baskets.










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