Spruce vs. Fir – 2 Tricks To Tell Them Apart

spruce vs. fir

Are those spruce trees? Fir trees? Photo via Flickr.

Spruce vs. Fir.  That is one of the questions that lots of budding naturalists have a hard time figuring out.  Here are two tricks to help you tell those trees apart.

There are some questions that seem to come up often when learning about the natural world.  For example, how can you tell apart a crow and raven?  What is the difference between an aspen tree and a birch tree?  It can be hard to tell apart a spruce and fir tree since they are so similar.  These two tricks will help you a lot with figuring that out.

spruce vs. fir

Photo via Flickr.

Spruce vs. Fir – Trick #1 The Needles

One of the best ways to tell if you are looking at a spruce tree or a fir tree is to simply look at and feel the needles.  Both trees are evergreen conifers, which means that they will have needles all year long. That means no matter the season you can always use the needles to help you identify the tree.

Take one of the needles off of the tree.  Try to roll the needle in your fingers.  If it rolls easily and has four even sides it is a spruce.  On the other hand if it is flat and doesn’t roll easily in your fingers it is a fir.

spruce vs. fir

Spruce needles. Photo via Flickr.

Spruce – Spins – it rolls in your fingers.

spruce vs. fir

Fir needles. Photo via Flickr.

Fir – Flat – it does not roll easily in your fingers.

One more hint about the needles.  Spruce needles tend to be sharp and pointy while fir needles are a bit softer.

Spruce vs. Fir – Trick #2 Look At The Cones

As I said, both of these trees are evergreen conifers.  That means that they both reproduce by making cones, not flowers.  Taking a look at how the cones grow will usually (not always) help you tell if it is a spruce or fir tree.

On true firs the cones stand up.  The exception to this is a Douglas Fir.

In contrast, the cones on spruce trees tend to point down towards the ground.

spruce vs. fir

Spruce cones point down towards the ground. Photo via Flickr.

Spruce – NOT Stand – the cones point down to the ground and don’t stand up.

Fir – NOT Fall – the cones stand cup and don’t fall or point down towards the ground.

One more hint about the cones is to look on the ground.  Cones of spruce trees will fall off the tree in their entire cone.  This means you can find spruce cones on the ground under the trees.  The cones of fir trees do not fall off in one solid piece, but fall off in pieces.  This means you can’t usually find cones under fir trees.