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  • We are happy to assist you at +49 176 841 015 30
  • Safe shopping with PayPal
  • Free shipping over EUR 100
  • Shipping across Europe
  • Bonsai Doctor - Contact us if your Bonsai is facing issues (info@goldenbonsai.de)

#03: Spruce vs. Fir - 5 Simple Features to Safely Distinguish Spruces and Firs

Spruces and firs are among the most popular coniferous trees often found in forests, gardens, and parks. While they may appear similar at first glance, they have several distinctive characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we'll take a detailed look at the distinctive features of spruces and firs and explore other interesting aspects that can help distinguish these two types of coniferous trees.


I enjoy wandering through the woods with friends and appreciating nature. As a bonsai enthusiast, it's the perfect opportunity for me to observe nature. With bonsai, we aim to create the illusion of an ancient tree in miniature form. Who could be a better teacher for this endeavor than nature itself?

Many trees are unmistakable. A chestnut or an oak, for example, has a quite distinctive appearance and is likely easy for most to identify. However, distinguishing between spruces and firs can be a bit more challenging. In everyday language, almost all coniferous trees are often referred to as "fir trees" - at least in Germany. Both tree species also belong to the same family of pine trees (botanical family Pinaceae), but they branch into the subfamilies of spruces (Pinaceae picea) and firs (Pinaceae abies).

In the following, I would like to present 5 features that differentiate spruces from firs and that might be quite interesting for a general understanding.

Feature 1: The needles

Firs have flat needles that are typically soft and flexible. In contrast, spruces have pointed and sharp needles. The charming rhyme "spruce needles prick, fir needles don't stick" can be a helpful mnemonic.

(Left: spruce needles, right: fir needles)

Feature 2: The cones

Another clear distinguishing feature is the cones. In spruces, the cones hang downward and fall off the tree when mature. Fir cones, on the other hand, stand upright on the fir branches and often remain on the tree for years. If you spot elongated cones on the forest floor during a hike, they are likely spruce cones.

(Left: spruce cones, right: fir cones)

Feature 3: Growth form

The growth form of both tree species is also quite different. Spruces have a typical cylindrical cone shape with a pointed tip. Firs, on the other hand, have a narrower, more open crown.

(Left: spruce, right: fir)

Feature 4: Branch Shape

Branch shape is another distinguishing feature of these two coniferous tree species. The branches of spruces are often drooping, with the tips of the branches pointing upward. In contrast, fir branches grow horizontally from the trunk.

(Left: spruce branches, right: fir branches)

Feature 5: Root system

The root system can also be helpful in distinguishing between them (however, more difficult to observe in nature). Firs have a taproot that extends deep into the soil, providing them with high resistance to storms. Spruces, on the other hand, have shallow roots and develop a broader, surface-level root system.

(Left: spruce roots, right: fir roots)

Closing remarks

Distinguishing between spruces and firs can be a fascinating task for nature lovers, hobby gardeners, and tree enthusiasts. By paying attention to characteristics like needles, cones, growth form, and branch shape, you can differentiate these two coniferous tree species and better understand their unique features and adaptations in different habitats. We believe that this can enhance your appreciation of the beauty and diversity of nature.

We hope you find these explanations interesting. All information has been researched and compiled to the best of our knowledge. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by email or phone.

Your Golden Bonsai Team