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Code: t201
Latin name: Picea excelsa
Source material: Pollen
Family: Pinaceae
Common names: Spruce tree, Norway Spruce, Red Fir, European Spruce
Synonym: P. abies

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Spruce refers to trees of the genus Picea, a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the Family Pinaceae, indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere. They are similar to the Fir genus. They can be distinguished by their whorled branches and conical form. Spruce trees are native to northern Europe, from Scandinavia to the Alps.

Spruces are evergreen trees with pyramidal habits, whorled branches, and scaly bark, and occur farther north than most trees. The trunk is grey-brown to red-brown, with irregular, close scales. The foliage is dark green. The branches are drooping, and often touch the ground. The leaves are 4-sided, somewhat curved, and spirally arranged, but are not sharply pointed. The needles are shed when 4–10 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained sterigmata (an easy means of distinguishing them from other similar genera, where the branches are fairly smooth) (1).

Flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are produced in May. Fruit is a pendant cone, 10 - 15cm long, with numerous persistent scales. Male and female cones are borne on the ends of the previous year’s growth. The cone of the Norway Spruce is the largest of all Spruce cones.

These trees are common in woodlands, and occasionally planted as landscape trees in cities. Spruce is one of the most important woods for paper manufacture, as it has long wood fibres which bind together to make strong paper. Spruce wood, often called whitewood, is used for many purposes, ranging from general construction work and crates to highly specialised uses in wooden aircraft and many musical instruments, including guitars, mandolins, cellos, violins, and the soundboard at the heart of a piano (1). The leaves and branches, or the essential oils, can be used to brew spruce beer.

No allergens from this plant have yet been characterised.

Potential cross-reactivity

An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus could be expected as well as to a certain degree between members of the family Pinaceae (2).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Anecdotal evidence suggests that asthma and hayfever are possible following exposure to pollen from this tree; however, few specific studies on this have been reported to date.

Occupational asthma, lung function deficits, and elevated levels of respiratory symptoms in workers exposed to the wood dust have been demonstrated (3).

A 20-year-old man who had had flexural atopic eczema until 11 years of age, developed facial eczema and swelling 2 months after working at a sawmill as a forklift operator with fresh-sawn Finnish pine (Pinus sylvestris), Spruce (Picea abies) and European white birch (Betula pendula) timber. Patch testing was positive to Myroxylon pereirae resin, colophonium, abietic acid, fragrance mix, pine saw- dust and spruce sawdust (4).

In a study evaluating the impact of different trees on asthma, and the association between daily hospitalizations for asthma and daily concentrations of different tree pollens in 10 large Canadian cities, found an increase in daily tree pollen concentration, and percent increases in daily hospitalization for asthma were 2.45% for the group containing Pinaceae (Pine, Fir, Spruce) (5).

Major aeroallergens in Anchorage, Alaska, are Birch, Alder, Poplar, Spruce, Grass pollen and Cladosporium (6). Pollen from Picea spp. has been reported to be a significant airborne pollen in Zagreb, Croatia (7).

Other reactions
Occupational allergic contact dermatitis (8-9).

Plasters made from Spruce balsam may cause redness, itching papules, and/or sensitive skin, even pustules and ulcers (10).

Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com.


  1. Wikipedia contributors, ”Spruce”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Spruce&oldid=228620900 (accessed August 4, 2008)
  2. Yman L. Botanical relations and immuno-logical cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09
  3. Hessel PA, Herbert FA, Melenka LS, Yoshida K,
    Michaelchuk D, Nakaza M. Lung health in sawmill workers exposed to pine and Spruce. Chest 1995;108(3):642-6
  4. Majamaa H, Viljanen P. Occupational facial allergic contact dermatitis caused by Finnish pine and spruce wood dusts.
    Contact Dermatitis 2004;51(3):155-6
  5. Dales RE, Cakmak S, Judek S, Coates F. Tree pollen and hospitalization for asthma in urban Canada. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2008;146(3):241-7
  6. Anderson JH. Allergenic airborne pollen and spores in Anchorage, Alaska.
    Ann Allergy 1985;54(5):390-9
  7. Peternel R, Culig J, Mitić B, Vukusić I, Sostar Z.
    Analysis of airborne pollen concentrations in Zagreb, Croatia, 2002.
    Ann Agric Environ Med 2003;10(1):107-12
  8. Estlander T, Jolanki R, Alanko K, Kanerva L.
    Occupational allergic contact dermatitis caused by wood dusts.
    Contact Dermatitis 2001;44(4):213-7
  9. Meding B, Ahman M, Karlberg AT. Skin symptoms and contact allergy in woodwork teachers.
    Contact Dermatitis 1996;34(3):185-90
  10. Fregert S, Rorsman H. Hypersensitivity to balsam of pine and spruce.
    Arch Dermatol 1963;87:693-5


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.