Trees Please Hamilton

Green Solutions to Air Pollution

Our Winter Favourites: Fir and Spruce

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With another big snowfall, this week we are appreciating fir and spruce trees for staying green and keeping wildlife well-fed throughout the winter. These lovely natives are not very common in our city, as they are more northern species. We most often see the non-native Blue Spruce – a hardy urban survivor.

A quick trick to tell fir and spruce apart is to roll the needles; fir needles are flat, whereas spruce needles are four-sided and will more readily roll between your fingers.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)


Our only native fir in eastern Canada, the Balsam Fir is designated the provincial tree of New Brunswick. Many recognize this species as a common Christmas tree; it’s a great choice because it can hold on to its needles for a long time after being cut, and has a powerful fragrance.

It is a food source for many rodents, birds, and deer, through the seeds, new buds, the bark, and shoots. It does not regenerate well after a forest fire, and is susceptible to eastern spruce budworm.

White Spruce (Picea glauca)


An important food for seed-eating birds and red squirrels, the bark, shoots, and buds are also all snacked upon by deer, various rodents, and porcupines. The needles can also be tinged with blue and be confused for Blue Spruce, however Blue Spruce needles are very sharp. The needles give off a bad odour when crushed, leading to the alternative name of “skunk spruce”. The wood is used for pulp and lumber, and often for the sounding boards of musical instruments. This is the provincial tree of Manitoba and extends right up to the northern tree line.

Black Spruce (Picea mariana)


After a fire, it is one of the first species to reestablish. It has adapted to life in fire-prone areas and bogs, where competition is low. Like many other trees, its seeds are foraged by birds and squirrels, but it is especially appreciated by the spruce grouse.

Black Spruce is the provincial tree of Newfoundland, and is a common northern tree in Ontario. Trees Please hasn’t seen any Black Spruce in the city, as this tree prefers wetlands.

Come out and learn about these trees and more on February 10 at 10:00 am at the Chedoke Golf Course for a Winter Tree Identification hike with a local expert! Email to reserve a spot.


Author: treespleasehamilton

A project of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club and Environment Hamilton. Funding by Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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