Pines vs. Spruces

Difference Between Pines And Spruces

Pines are among the most common and widely distributed of all trees, with 100 species. Most grow naturally in the Northern Hemisphere, although they have now been introduced to all parts of the world. Pines are recognized by their bundled evergreen needles, which grow at the tips of short shoots. A papery sheath wraps around the base of each cluster, which usually contains two to five needles, depending on the species. The needles generally remain on the tree several years, usually two to four.

Pine trees not only survive, but thrive, in some of the most-difficult growing conditions. They prefer dry, rocky, nutrient-poor soil. They can tolerate drought, but need full sunlight and clean air for healthy growth and reproduction. Their chief value is their wood, used for both lumber and paper pulp. Pine trees also yield turpentine, resin, oils, and wood tars. Some species produce edible seeds called pine nuts, or piñons.

The stately eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is the tallest tree in the eastern states, reaching heights of 170 feet (52 meters). Its cones grow up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) long, and its leaf bundles contain five needles. The Ponderosa, or western yellow, pine (P. ponderosa) is the most valuable timber tree in the Rocky Mountains. It grows to some 200 feet (60 meters) in height, with three long needles in each leaf bundle. As mentioned, the bristlecone pine (P. longaeva) of the Rocky Mountains is the oldest known tree. A stand of bristlecone pines in the Rockies of eastern Nevada contains several trees more than 3,000 years old—the oldest specimen among them is nearly 5,000 years old. The largest species is the sugar pine (P. lambertiana) of California, growing to heights of more than 230 feet (70 meters), with a trunk some 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.

The slash pine (P. elliotii) is the most important conifer in Central America. The Scotch pine, which grows throughout Europe and Siberia, has reddish-orange bark and bears dark bluish-green needles in clusters of two. The Aleppo, or Jerusalem pine, is native to the Mediterranean, where it has been an important source of turpentine, tar, and rosin for thousands of years. The hauntingly beautiful Japanese black pine (P. thunbergii) is known the world over from paintings on Oriental pottery.


Spruces are pyramid-shaped conifers, with circles of branches that become progressively shorter toward the crown of the tree. Their bark is thin and scaly. Their leaves arise singly from the main branches, each on its own peglike stalk. The seed cones droop downward from the tips of the branches.

Spruces are important timber trees. Although their wood is not particularly strong, it is light, and this makes it ideal for ship masts, planks, and oars. The wood is also resonant, or able to vibrate with sound, making it useful for sounding boards in pianos, violins, and other string instruments.

About 40 species of spruces grow in the Northern Hemisphere. They are most abundant in far-northern regions such as Siberia and Canada, where they form vast, tightly packed forests. Among the most common are black spruce (Picea mariana) and white spruce (P. glauca), both valued for paper pulp and timber.



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