Bogs and Acidic Peatlands of Southern New England by Marsha C. Salett
Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.
PINACEAE (Pine Family)
EtymologyPicea comes from "pix," the Latin for pitch; mariana, refers to the legend that leaves became spotted when drops of Mary's milik fell on them, and also means "from Maryland."
Synonyms (Common Name)Bog Spruce, Swamp Spruce, Eastern Spruce, Shortleaf Black Spruce
DescriptionThe only spruce of peatlands, Black Spruce is a slim, evergreen conifer with grayish-brown bark. It averages 10-30 feet in height, but can reach 100 feet tall at the southern limit of its range. It is the dominant tree of northern forested swamps. In bogs, Black Spruce are often stunted; their lower branches can sink and root in the Sphagnum peat, producing a thicket of clones around the parent tree known as "bog islands."
Wetland indicator statusFACW-
Plant Height10-30 feet
LeavesEvergreen, short (1/4-1/2") four-sided needles, blunt-tipped, bluish-green with whitish bloom; needles are spirally arranged on the twig and attached singly by a stubby stalk, so that the twig is rough when leaves are removed.
FruitCones 3/4 -1 1/4" long, egg-shaped, pendent, with stiff cone scales that are toothed on outer margin; dark purple when immature, brown when mature.
Fruiting PeriodApril-May, mature in one season, persist for several years.
HabitatForested swamps, Sphagnum bogs, pond and lake shores, wet soils.
RangeNewfoundland to Alaska; south to New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota.
Dwarf Mistletoe (Arceuthobium pussilum) is a tiny parasitic plant of Black Spruce (occasionally on other conifers) that grows between the needles, weakening and eventually killing the tree, or creating dense clusters of dead stems called "witches brooms."
Larch (Larix laricina)
Northern White Cedar (Thuja Occidentalis)
Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia)
Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia var. glaucophylla)
Dwarf Huckleberry (Gaylussacia dumosa var. bigeloviana)
Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum)
Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)
Mountain Holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus)
Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)
Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
Speckled Alder (Alnus incana ssp. Rugosa)
Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides)
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)
Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus)
Swamp Dewberry (Rubus hispidus)
Sphagnum mosses
Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
Tussock Cotton Grass (Eriophorum vaginatum var. spissum)
Similar Species
Red Spruce(Picea rubens) can be found along lake margins and in southern bogs, and other spruces grow in forested uplands; Black Spruce is the tree of northern peatlands, including New England.
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) have flatter needles with white stripes on the underside and smoother twigs; Black Spruce has 4-sided needles and a bumpy stem when the needles are removed.
Seasonal Diagnostics
Summer: Immature dark purple cones in April-May.
Fall: Cones ripen to brown and persist for several seasons.
(c) 1998-2006 Marsha C. Salett