Urban species #052: Norway spruce Picea abies
The Norway spruce is the most widely planted spruce tree in North America. It grows quickly, has a pyramidal shape that people find attractive, and thrives in most of the continent. In fact the Norway spruce is considered naturalized, meaning, it "persists without cultivation," or in other words, can reproduce and establish itself. It is not yet considered invasive, but it is being scrutinized for invasive properties, in Canada, Maryland, Tennessee, and Hawaii.
Norway spruce is chosen for city landscaping because of its attractiveness, and because it tolerates urban conditions. Several Norway spruces are often planted along a property line as a windbreak. It is also a popular choice as a Christmas tree: there is one erected in New York City every year, at Rockefeller Center. (The living Christmas tree in Washington D.C. is a blue spruce.)
Norway spruce can be identified at a distance by the shape of its branches. The bottom most branches swoop up, and toward the top the branches sprout branchlets that droop down. Their cones are on the longest of the spruces, up to eight inches long.
It's greatest value to wildlife is cover, especially in winter. Few native animals find its foliage palatable, but chickadees and some other birds feed on the seeds. Hawks and owls are known to hunt from Norway spruce vantage points, and mourning doves sometimes build nests in the dense prickly cover of spruce boughs.