Separating Spruce and Other Lookalikes

by Eric Meier

Spruce is a softwood with a good strength-to-weight ratio, as is favored in aircraft construction; it’s excellent acoustic properties make it a popular choice for many acoustic musical instrument tops, such as violins or guitars.

When dealing with Spruce (Picea genus), there are a few main species and groupings that help to sort things out.

Eastern Spruce

Sitka Spruce


Additionally, the following species of Spruce are technically not “Eastern” in their provenance, but still share all or most of the same characteristics:

(Engelmann Spruce can sometimes be distinguished on the basis of its lighter weight and more abrupt earlywood to latewood transition.)


(Of all the species of spruce, the only one that can be reliably separated from other species on the basis of macroscopic features is Sitka Spruce.)


  • Sapwood and heartwood are usually indistinguishable, and tend to be a uniform cream color or yellowish color.
  • Resin canals are small and infrequent, sometimes in tangential groups.
  • Tracheid diameter small, with a fine texture.

  • Sapwood is a cream or yellow color, but heartwood can sometimes have a pinkish hue that is different from sapwood.
  • Resin canals are slightly larger than other spruce species, sparse to somewhat numerous, sometimes in tangential groups.
  • Tracheid diameter medium, with a medium texture that feels coarser than other spruce species.
Lookalikes:Fir/Hemlock – Fir (Abies spp.) and hemlock (Tsuga spp.) are both very similar to spruce in appearance and weight. However, only spruce has resin canals, with fir/hemlock totally lacking resin canals.Larch – Larch (Larix spp.) can sometimes be mixed up with spruce because they both have small resin canals, and both are more or less odorless. However, the darker reddish heartwood, greater color contrast between earlywood and latewood, and its heavier average weight all serve to differentiate larch from spruce. Lookalikes:

  • Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) – Sitka Spruce’s sometimes reddish heartwood color and larger resin canals can sometimes be confused with some species of Pine, particularly the soft pines such as Eastern White Pine. Sitka Spruce’s lack of any distinct odor easily separates it from pine.
  • Fir, Hemlock, and Larch – See comments in left column.

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Nick R

Englemann spruce can sometimes be found in big home centers and lumberyards in the 1x (3/4″) boards. It’s marketed along with Lodgepole pine, and will have a stamp-ESLP. It’s not too hard to tell if you’ve got Englemann because it’s lighter, whiter, softer and has no darker heartwood. At Lowe’s around 2012, I found imported German Norway spruce in 2x thickness marked NSPR-GER. Also, I’ve seen 2x4s from Austria and Czech Republic that had no indicator of species but seemed to be European spruce (Norway spruce, picea abies). Around Baltimore, Norway spruce is a common yard tree. Planted around a… Read more »