Of the two spruces native to Colorado, the Engelmann Spruce is much more widespread and popular. Chances are most people know what this particular tree looks like and have seen it on many occasions, especially on expeditions through the mountains. The Engelmann spruce lives best in moist places at higher altitudes. This tree can survive at altitudes over 9,000 feet and occupies millions of acres of forest in the Rocky Mountains.
These spruces are usually seen on the westerly slopes of the Rockies where the sun hits them just right, making for perfect growing conditions. Though these trees do enjoy a wetter climate, they can remain alive even without an extensive amount of water or nutrients. Even without the preferred amounts of nourishment, the Engelmann spruce tree can grow to be over 120 feet tall, one of the taller conifers in the state by far. Not only can these trees grow to amazing heights, but they can also live for hundreds of years. This is most likely due to their sturdy roots and ability to withstand imperfect growing conditions.
The Engelmann’s cones are generally around two inches long and carry large numbers of seeds inside. These seeds, which germinate easily in rich soil, are carried off by wind and sometimes animals like birds or squirrels. Once redistributed, these seeds grow into young Engelmann spruces. However, when young, these spruces are not as resilient as when they are older. They need just the right amount of sun and shade in order to survive to maturity.
At an older age, though, the spruces do extremely well and can even survive in droughts when necessary. Their needles are squared in shape and pointy. They look much like those of the Blue spruce, but fairly less sharp. Also unlike the Blue spruce, the Engelmann has darker bark that actually resembles that of the Lodgepole pine.
Besides being a great source of food for woodland animals, the Engelmann spruce is also oftentimes put to use making furniture, instruments, jewelry, and so on. It can be burned for firewood as well, which is useful for campers, seeing as the spruces are abundant around most mountain camping sites.
The Engelmann spruce is definitely not the strongest or longest-lived tree in Colorado, though is special with towering height and unique twisted trunk. In some areas where the tree is free of bark, one might notice a very interesting pattern in the wood of the tree, often swirled and wrapped around the tree like a candy cane. Some think this pattern may be caused by the high winds these trees face. There are other trees also have this feature, so one should not rely entirely upon that one trait to distinguish between trees. However, if the twisted appearance is accompanied by square needles, two-inch cones, and a darker bark, chances are the tree is indeed an Engelmann spruce.
By Jason Writz
Image Source: forestry.usu.edu