One of my favorite trees in Eliza Howell Park is about 22 inches tall, considerably taller than when I first almost stepped on it three years ago. It is in a small clearing inside a wooded area of the park.
Along the park road on the west side, there are over a dozen quite large spruce trees. The location, the spacing, and the size all suggest that they were planted when the park was being developed in the first half of the 20th century.
The name “spruce” reportedly comes from the French “Pruce,” meaning Prussia, where such trees were believed to have originated. There are some 35 species of spruce in the world, with several native to North America.
Spruce trees are symmetrical, having the cone shape that many of us tend to associate with Christmas trees.
One of the best ways to identify a spruce is by feeling its needles. Spruce needles are more or less quadrangled (4-sided), which makes them different from the other conifers that we typically find. The needles are attached to the stem singly.
A spruce has both female and male cones. In the spring, wind carries the pollen from the smaller male cones to female cones. The large mature cones hang down and many hang on through the winter.
The little 22-inch spruce is several hundred yards from the others in Eliza Howell and it stands alone. It has no doubt grown from a seed that got carried there, more likely by a mammal than by a bird, I think.
Gardeners call them “volunteers,” the plants that come up from seed not planted by humans. That is, they call desirable plants “volunteers;” undesirable plants are, of course, called “weeds.”
The little spruce is a volunteer, one of the few volunteer spruces in the park, if not the only one. This is one reason it is a favorite tree.
At this point I look down at the littlest spruce. If the tree thrives, in several decades someone will look up and see something like this.
Meanwhile, I will watch as, if all goes well, it adds possibly as much as a foot to its size this year.