Mrs W from Nether Lamport has been in touch again and do you know, on this occasion she may have a point. She came upon me strolling on the High Street, her iron grey hair somewhat awry, summoned me to her side and asked if we call spruce trees ‘spruce’ for their spruce habit.
I hope I was not abrupt, but I was not anxious to pursue the conversation. However as I tipped my hat and walked smartly away, I did wonder if she might indeed have a point.
Spruce trees are famously spruce: as the Rev. William Gilpin put it: ‘it often feathers to the ground, and grows in a more exact, and regular shape. … It often wants both form and variety. We admire it’s floating foliage … but it is rather disagreeable to see a repetition of these feathery strata, beautiful as they are, reared, tier, above tier, in regular order, from the bottom to the top. It’s perpendicular stem also, which has seldom any lineal variety, makes the appearance of the tree still more formal.’
Gilpin is joined by Capability Brown’s successor, Humphry Repton, who made a similar comment of Brown’s planting of spruce on Maiden Early Common, ‘which fortunately do not grow; for if they succeeded, the contrast is so violent between the wild surface of a heath, and the spruce appearance of firs, that they would be misplaced …’
In short, though the straight timbers of Picea spp. recommended them as a building wood, but for the same reason they was not admired for their beauty, quick though they might be in the growing.
Other trees were called Spruce (Tsuga sp. for example), but inaccurately.