The Sitka Spruce was declared Alaska's state tree, on 28th February 1962. This coniferous tree is also identified by the names of Coast Spruce, Yellow Spruce, and Tideland Spruce. It is named after the Sitka community of Alaska.
These are the fifth largest among the conifers and grow up to 150-200 feet. As these trees attain great heights, their trunks grow thick with an average diameter of 7 feet. When these trees are saplings, their barks are thin and greenish-purple in color. However, scales develop on their surface gradually, giving them a brownish color. The leaves of these trees are needle shaped. These needles grow spirally along the small branches. Sitka are monoecious plants, which means that both the male and female reproductive organs are present on the same plant. Cones, the reproductive organs of Sitka's, are elongated and up to 5 inches in length. The cones appear greenish when they are small and turn brown at maturity. These trees produce cones after completing 15 years. After complete development, the cones disperse black colored seeds in the environment. This process of dispersal continues for about 6 weeks.
Occurrence and Climate Requirements
Sitka Spruce is mostly found in North America. Their area stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to northern California. Since the Sitka requires high rainfall, it grows well along the coastal belt. In these coastal areas, it grows along with the hemlocks, yellow cedars, and the western red cedars. In the north of Oregon, the tree is found along riversides; however, it doesn't grow beyond the 80 km range from the Pacific ocean.
Long Life and High Growth Rate
These trees live a long life - some of them have lived for 700 years and their growth rate is very high. According to the studies conducted by Mr. Van Pelt, The Queets Spruce tree located in Olympic National Park, produces a cubic meter of wood every year!
Largest and Tallest Sitka Trees
Most of the taller Sitka trees were axed before their measurement. However, trees taller than 300 feet are found even today in British Columbia and on the Vancouver Island. The 314-feet tall Carmanah Giant, the tallest Sitka tree in the world, is found in Canada. The largest among all these trees is the Queets Spruce, and has a trunk volume of 337 cubic meter.
Sitka - A Special and Useful Tree
This tree is primarily used for paper production and timber. Its wood, which has a high strength-to-weight ratio and knot-free rings, is an excellent conductor of sound. It is hence used in manufacturing musical instruments like pianos, guitars, etc. A special beer known as 'spruce beer' is flavored using the branches of Sitka tree. The branches are also boiled to make syrup. Along with the trunk and branches of this tree, the root bark is also useful. The native people of Alaska use it in weaving baskets. Sitka Spruce has attained great importance, from the point of view of the timber industry because of its fast growth - around 60 inches per year. The tree can survive 'salt sprays'. In a salt spray, the trees have to face frequent sprays of salty sea water. Not many trees grow properly in such conditions. However, the Sitka Spruce does. Growing along the seashore also means that, the spruces have to dig their roots into a land filled with rock and sand. All the above mentioned qualities make the Sitka a special and useful tree.
A Sitka tree with golden foliage was considered sacred by a native American population, Haida. A specimen of this unique species, known as Kiidk'yaas, was preserved in its natural form on the Queen Charlotte Islands. However, it was illegally cut down later on.
Like other trees worldwide, the Sitka tree too is a victim of deforestation. Its use in the timber industry has reduced its number to a great extent. Efforts have to be taken to conserve this extraordinary tree. Let's preserve this tree, that has 'toiled' for us for centuries!