The Marvelous Serbian Spruce
The Serbian spruce is one of the lesser known species of spruce trees, though once you've seen one it's a little hard to imagine. There are many who will insist that the Serbian spruce is the most beautiful of all the spruce trees, or if not the most beautiful, certainly the most graceful in appearance.
The reason this spruce is not better known is largely due to the fact that for many years it only was to be found in a very small area, a part of which lies in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and another part which lies in Serbia. The tree grows wild in this small patch of southeastern Europe, and it wasn't until the latter part of the 19th century that the tree began to be placed in cultivation, slowly spreading across Europe, and particularly into northern Europe, as a landscaping specimen.
Although the tree can readily be propagated from seed the results are sometimes unpredictable as far as what the shape of the mature tree will be. In most instances however, the tree has a rather uniform, slender shape, with drooping branches. Most trees sold on the commercial market today come from grafts, and their growth habit is therefore quite predictable. The scientific name for the species is Panciceva omorika. Panciceva is the botanical designation for spruce, and omorika is Serbian for spruce, so the species is literally a "Spruce spruce".
Flat, Colorful Needles - Although the Serbian spruce has a reasonable spread, about 20 feet for a 50 foot high specimen, the crown of the tree is very slender, which together with the drooping branches gives the tree an extremely graceful appearance. The spruce also puts on a color show of sorts as the tops of the flat needles are dark blue-green while the undersides of the needles are a contrasting blue-white color. The flat needles are unusual for a spruce, which normally has four-sided needles. The Serbian spruce in fact is the only spruce having flat needles.
Despite its rather slender appearance, the tree has a somewhat stout trunk, often attaining a diameter approaching 3 feet. When small, the Serbian spruce is popular as a Christmas tree. It has been commercially grown in Europe in the past century for pulp and paper, but the tree's relatively slow rate of growth makes other species of spruce much more profitable for that particular usage.
Outstanding As A Group - One of the nice things about this spruce is it doesn't demand a lot of room. It can be at quite at home in a rather small yard or garden, and can be planted close to, though not right up next to, the side of building. The Serbian spruce is not terribly fussy about the soil it is placed in, though most horticulturists recommend it be planted in a somewhat loamy soil that is well drained. The Serbian spruce will do well in either a slightly alkaline or slightly acidic soil. Evergreen plants in general don't do well in an alkaline soil, but this particular species seems to have no problem with it. If you're thinking of planting a Serbian spruce, and you have ample room, consider planting a group of three. While a single specimen is very attractive, a group of these trees can be quite an impressive sight indeed. Placing the saplings in a triangle whose sides are equal and between 10' and 15' should yield the most effective result.
The Serbian spruce is becoming more and more popular, and one of these days when you mention the name, most people will know what you're talking about. As it is, most horticulturists, evergreen retailers, and landscape artists are familiar with this tree, and you should be as well.