Introduced to cultivation in the late 1800's, Serbian
spruce is native to a small region of
limestone mountains along the upper Drina river of Bosnia and Serbia, in
Southeastern Europe. In cultivation, substantial variation in form does occur
from seed. While I have observed many broadly pyramidal specimens, most have a
slender trunk and short ascending or drooping branches forming a narrow, very
graceful, spire-like habit. The tree has a moderate growth rate of up to 12
inches per year and generally will attain a height of 50 to 60 feet by 20 to 25
feet spread. Identification is made easy by its unique habit and needle
characteristics. Serbian is one of
the few spruces with flat needles
like a hemlock, not the four-sided needles of most spruces.
The short, ½ inch to 1 inch long needles are lustrous dark green above while
the underside has two broad, white stomatal bands. These bands collectively
standout, creating a unique silvery contrast that is very effective when the
upswept branches move in the wind. Cones are egg-shaped to 2½ inches long and
pendulous, blue-black when young, cinnamon when mature.
Hardy to Zone 4, Serbian spruce
grows well in full sun to partial shade on sites protected from winter wind. If
grown in too much shade the tree becomes thin and leggy and will not thrive.
While Serbian prefers a rich, moist
but well-drained soil, most sources indicate it will tolerate a wide pH range,
drought-prone soil, and urban conditions. It is considered to be one of the most
adaptable spruces, quite a claim
given the hardiness and tenacity of species such as Norway and Black Hills spruce.
Serbian transplants well in spring or
fall from containers or as a B&B plant and establishes quickly under a
variety of landscape conditions.
Propagation is straightforward, as seeds require no pretreatment.
Few diseases appear to bother Serbian
spruce in the mid-Atlantic region.
Some sources list aphids, mites, scale and budworm as potential insect problems,
however so far there are no reports of these pests significantly affecting the
tree in Pennsylvania. The notable exception is White Pine Weevil. This pest will
destroy the central leader and can seriously disfigure Serbian
spruce if not controlled.
An elegant specimen, Serbian
spruce deserves a more prominent
place in commercial and residential landscapes. It can be used in groups, as a
single specimen, or even as an evergreen street tree. It has utility as a
natural screen and selections with a narrow habit are suitable for even small
urban landscapes. Serbian spruce
represents a welcome alternative to the all-to-common Norway and Colorado spruce.