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Brewer's spruce

Considered one of the most attractive conifers in the world, Brewer's spruce is also one of the rarest. Although it is widely planted in British gardens, in the wild it is found only in the Siskiyou Mountains of California and Oregon in the USA.

The drooping foliage of Brewer's spruce (Picea breweriana)

The drooping foliage of Brewer's spruce (Picea breweriana)

About Kew's Brewer's spruce

This rare tree was discovered by a Californian botanist called William Henry Brewer, who was a professor of agriculture at Yale University. It was introduced to Britain via Kew in 1897 when a single plant was sent here. It was 1920 before it first bore cones, but since then the tree has been widely distributed and it is now one of the most popular garden conifers, not only in Britain but also in Scandinavia.

Take a closer look

  • Notice how the needles emerge from the leaf shoot almost at right angles and are flattened like blades. The upper side is a shiny dark green while the underside has two white bands.
  • You can easily recognise this tree's shape, with its attractive drooping foliage that looks particularly lovely straight after rainfall when drops of water glisten on its needle-like leaves.

Tree biology

Also known as the weeping spruce, the Brewer's spruce has thick curtains of drooping foliage. In its natural habitat in the Siskiyou Mountains of California and Oregon, it grows at 1,000 - 2,700 m above sea level. Here, heavy snowfall is common and the tough, springy branches easily shed any snow before it can damage the tree.

The male flowers of the Brewer's spruce are small and red and tend to grow at the end of shoots. The female flowers are green and erect. Once pollinated however, they transform into cones that grow in size. Eventually gravity takes over and when ripe they hang straight down from the branches. These long, slightly curved cones are brown and large, up to 15 cm in length, and are among the longest of all American spruces.

Cultivation and uses

Several features of the Brewer's spruce make it popular as a garden ornamental in the UK and Scandanavia. Like many conifers, its upright, pyramidal shape is striking and has the benefit of not taking up too much space.

It grows quite slowly, usually less than 50 cm a year, and outside of its native habitat tends not to top 15 m, which is less than half it can achieve in the wild. It is therefore less prone to causing neighbourly disputes than some garden evergreens!

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Picea breweriana
  • Family: Pinaceae
  • Place of origin: north-western California and south-western Oregon
  • Conservation status: Lower Risk/Near Threatened
  • Date planted: 1971
  • Height: 0.5 m