Sitka spruce thrives under cool, moist conditions, and enters California only at the northwestern corner, otherwise growing into British Columbia and as far north as Kodiak Island, Alaska. It is tolerant of salt spray, and grows over a range of 1,800 miles, from sea level to 1000 feet, often receiving 100 inches, or more, of precipitation in a year.
Sitka spruce is the largest spruce, and one of the largest conifers, in the world, sometimes attaining a height of 300 feet. At both Patrick's Point and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks in California, sitka spruce grows right to the coast, often with small, stunted forms in the dunes. In those locations both sitka spruce and coast redwood tended to form pure stands, with coast redwood occurring inland from the spruce. Sitka spruce also grows with western hemlock, grand fir, Douglas-fir, and shore pine, and I also saw many red alders (Alnus rubra) growing nearby.
Sitka spruce with Siskiyou Mountains in the distance
Massive buttressed base is typical.
Sitka spruce with the gold bluffs at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This stunted form exists where wind and salt spray are prevalent.
Sitka spruce is a major timber species in the Pacific northwest, and is also planted widely in northwest Europe. The lumber has a high strength-to-weight ratio, and was used for aircraft prior to aluminum. It is currently used in boat building, and has many applications in musical instruments.
Sitka spruce is much less publicized than redwoods. I was singularly impressed with the stands at Patrick's Point and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks, perhaps because before that visit, I had only seen a single tree in a California native garden.
Some old growth forests of sitka spruce remain, with trunks 15 feet in diameter, but the giants of Washington and British Columbia have been logged extensively for lumber, plywood, and paper pulp.
Chris Earle's Gymnosperm Database provides more detailed information:
Curious nodules on sitka spruce roots on the James Irvine Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Cones are small, about two inches or slightly longer. The thin scales have ragged margins. Compare with the larger Brewer spruce cone on the left with smooth-margined scales. The species do not occur together; though both grow in northwestern California, Sitka spruce is a coastal species, Brewer spruce grows inland.
Foliage is luscious looking. The needles grow all around the stem tending slightly forward. Stroking backward will surprise.