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spruce tree – winter

Of all the trees in the boreal forest, the spruce is the most widespread. Two types of spruce tree dominate the boreal forest landscape: the white spruce (ts'u chogh to the Chipewyan, wapiskimnahik, eninatik, and several other names to the Cree, and tsu to the Slave), and the black spruce (el in Chipewyan, ithinā(h)tik and many other names in Cree, and tsua h in Slave). On average the white spruce grows to be much taller than the black spruce; sometimes, the white spruce reaches a height of forty metres, though heights ranging from seven to twenty metres are more common. Well drained, moist soils are its favoured place of growth. An evergreen coniferous tree, the spruce has bluish green needle shaped leaves that grow from one to two-and-one-half centimetres long. Its bark is scaly and grayish brown in colour.

The black spruce is the smaller species of spruce in the boreal forest; it ranges from about seven to ten metres tall, occasionally reaching heights of fifteen metres. Black spruce can be found in the wetland areas throughout the northwest, often growing in marshy, poorly drained soil. Its needles grow from one to two centimetres long, and while its lower branches tend to droop, its upper branches tend to cluster near the top of the tree to form a knob at the top of the tree. The bark of the black spruce is scaly and ranges from dark grayish to reddish brown.

Traditional Uses:

spruce sap

Both varieties of spruce had a number of useful applications for the various Aboriginal Peoples who lived in the boreal forest. Spruce needles mixed with the sap of the tree could be boiled in water until the water was reduced. The resulting poultice could be used to draw infections out of open wounds. Sewing lace and bindings could be crafted from the core of spruce tree roots. The root cores would be boiled in water to soften them, and then treated with grease to ensure flexibility. The resulting string was used as binding for baskets, canoes, and other items. Spruce trees also produce a gummy pitch that was useful for fastening seams or fixing cracks in wood baskets and canoes.

Spruce boughs had a number of uses in northern Aboriginal tradition. Spruce boughs were useful ground covering to place bedding on at open camp sites. Spruce boughs placed upright in the ground and intertwined could also serve as windbreaks at open camp sites. Since trappers’ temporary log cabins or tents had dirt floors, spruce boughs were placed on the floor as ground cover, and replaced every so often to keep the floor fresh and tidy.

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