Picea breweriana


Brewer spruce near Boulder Creek Lakes in the Trinity Alps

Brewer spruce has an unforgettable silhouette: narrow, with long, dark, pendulous branchlets. It is found only in the Klamath Ranges, a limited area of northwest California and southwest Oregon. It occurs in scattered stands on ridges, north- and east-facing slopes, at an elevation of 3000 to 9000 feet, and thrives with annual precipitation of 50 to 100 inches. It does not compete well on optimal sites, but tolerates deep shade, drought, cold, and infertile soils, and is well-adapted to the serpentine soils common to the Klamath and Siskiyou Mountains. Brewer spruce is also susceptible to fire, and so tends to occur in more open stands.

Brewer spruce may grow with western white pine, sugar pine, foxtail pine, Shasta red fir, white fir, noble fir, Douglas-fir, incense-cedar, and mountain hemlock. In the Russian Wilderness it also occurs near Engelmann spruce, which makes a rare appearance from its prime habitat in the high Rocky Mountains.

Brewer spruce usually grows to 50–75 feet, though occasionally much larger, and may attain 5 feet in diameter. Brewer spruce may live 900 years. Bark is light gray to brownish-reddish, with irregular platelets.

Needles occur singly on a woody peg, characteristic of all spruces, and are somewhat prickly, though not nearly so prickly as Engelmann or Sitka spruce. Cones dangle from short branchlets, and are 2 to 5 inches long with smooth-margined scales.


Map showing highly limited occurrence of Brewer spruce in California, from Griffin & Critchfield, The Distribution of Forest Trees in California. Gymnosperm Database shows a more recent map, from 2005, that appears to show slightly more area for this species.

Mountain hemlock, western white pine, and Brewer spruce together in Trinity Alps Wilderness

This photo shows mountain hemlock, western white pine, and Brewer spruce: the verdant elegance of hemlock, ranging upper branches of western white pine, and dark, decidedly pendulous foliage of Brewer spruce. These three were found in Canyon Creek, Trinity Alps Wilderness, near the junction with Boulder Creek Trail.

The Russian Wilderness in the Klamath Mountains of northwest California is famous for having many conifers not usually found growing together. Here we have (left to right) western white pine, Shasta red fir, and two Brewer spruce.


Brewer spruce cone, to the right of much smaller Engelmann spruce cone. Both trees grow in the Russian Wilderness.