Picea likiangensis / Lijiang spruce

Picea likiangensis, as described in 1990 by by (Franchet) Ernst Georg Pritzel (1875–1948), in the 29th edition of Botanische Jahrbücher für Systematik, Pflanzengeschichte und Pflanzengeographie, is commonly known as Lijiang spruce; as well as 丽江云杉 (Lijiang yunshan) in the Chinese language. The species is named for the Lijiang mountain range, the "beautiful river," of southwestern China, where the type was first collected and studied. Despite being among the most ornamental of all spruces, it is not widely distributed in the nursery trade and likely to be found only in major arboretums.


Description. Lijiang spruce is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 165 feet (50 m); with a trunk up to 100 inches (250 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height; and a pyramidal crown.

  • Bark is gray or brown-gray in color, breaking into thick, irregular plates.
  • Branchlets are initially pale yellow or brownish yellow in color, later turning gray or gray-yellow, with sparsely pubescent texture.
  • Leaves (needles) are directed forward on adaxial side of branchlets, spreading on abaxial side; growing linear, straight or slightly curved; and rhombic in cross section. Individual needles measure 0.24 to 0.6 inch (6 - 15 mm) long, by 0.04 to 0.06 inch (1 - 1.5 mm) thick; with 4 to 7 stomatal lines on the adaxial surface and 0 to 4 on the abaxial surface, with an acute or obtuse apex.
  • Seed cones mature to shades of red, brown, or dark purple, with an ovoid-cylindric shape; measuring 1.2 to 1.6 inches (4 - 12 cm) long, by 0.68 to 1.4 inches (1.7 - 3.5 cm) broad when open.
  • Seed scales have a rhombic-ovate outline, measuring 0.6 to 1.04 by 0.4 to 0.72 inch (15 - 26 × 10 - 17 mm), with denticulate or undulate margins.
  • Seeds are gray-brown in color, with a subovoid shape, measuring 0.28 to 0.56 inch (7 - 14 mm) including a pale brown wing with purplish spots. Pollination takes place in April and May, with seed maturity in September and October.

Distribution. This species is native to Bhutan; as well as China — southern Qinghai, south and western Sichuan, eastern Xizang (Tibet), and northwestern Yunnan provinces, growing in mountains, ravines, and river basins at elevations of 8,000 to 13,500 feet (2,500 - 4,100 m) above sea level. They are usually associated with other conifers, such as Abies spp., Picea brachytyla, Larix potaninii, and Tsuga spp. at the lower elevations.

Hardy to USDA Zone 8 — cold hardiness limit between 10° and 20°F (-12.1° and -6.7°C).

E. H. Wilson of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum introduced the species to the west in 1910; there are four known forms with the most notable being Picea likiagensis var. purpurea, known as the purple-cone spruce.

Attribution from: Wu Zheng-yi and Peter H. Raven (editors); Flora of China, Volume 4; ©1999, Science Press, Beijing; Missouri Botanical Garden. St. Louis.

Picea likiangensis, a young tree at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, UK.
Photo by Chris Earle, via conifers.org; 2010
Picea likiangensis, female inflorescence in early spring.
Photo by Anthoine Clement
Picea likiangensis — spring push
Photo by John Fertig
Picea likiangensis — foliage and seed cone detail.
Photo by Arboretum de Villardebelle
Picea likiangensis — seed cones and seeds.
Photo by Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia Commons