Redwood vs. Sitka Spruce Tree: 5 Differences Between These Towering Giants

Written by James Bell
Published: September 23, 2023
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Trees are truly fascinating things. Not only do these large plants provide the world with oxygen and habitats for many smaller animals, but some of the tallest trees in the world can reach over 300 feet (91 meters)! The tallest trees in the world tend to be redwood trees.

Typically, these trees can grow to be more than 350 feet (107 meters) in height. The tallest redwood tree in the world by far is the 380-foot (115-meter) tall coast redwood tree in California, known as Hyperion. 

One tree that can possess similar qualities to redwood is the Sitka spruce. Both trees can grow in similar places, such as the old-growth redwood forest along the northern California coast. While these giant coniferous evergreens comprise a good portion of the forest, they possess some key differences.

To better distinguish the Sitka spruce from the three types of redwoods, let’s learn how to tell all four of them apart from one another.

Comparing Sitka Spruce vs. Redwood

CategoryGiant SequoiaCoast RedwoodDawn RedwoodSitka Spruce
OriginSierra Nevada mountain range, CaliforniaOregon, CaliforniaCentral/Western ChinaNorthern California and Alaska
USDA Hardiness ZoneZones 6 to 9Zones 7 to 10Zones 4 to 8Zones 6 to 8
Conservation Status in the USEndgangered, protectedEndgangered, protectedCritically endangeredLeast concern, common in the wild
HeightUp to 300 feet200 to 325 feet50 to 165 feet40 to 230 feet
ShapePyramidal-oval shape; columnar trunksStraight, slender trunk; conical crownPyramid-like shape; straight trunk; open, symmetrical crownCylindrical, slender shape; scaly trunk
WoodHigh-quality, rot-resistantHigh-quality, decay-resistantHigh-quality, not decay-resistantMedium-quality, slightly decay-resistant
Cones1.97-3.54 inches (5 to 9 cm)0.8-1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm)0.5-1 inch (1.27 to 2.5 cm)1-3 inches (2.5- 7.5cm)
UsesCommonly used as ornamental trees for parks and homesConstruction; cultivated for ornamental useConstruction; commonly used for furniture, cabinetry, flooring, paneling, and deckingGeneral construction; used in shipbuilding; can be used to make sounding boards in pianos and guitars
Elevation Limit (Distance Above Sea Level)Upper limit: 8,858 feet (2,700 m)

Lower limit: 2,723 feet (830 m)

Upper: 3,018 feet (920 m)

Lower: 3 feet (1 m)

Upper: 3967 feet (1209.32 m)

Lower: 11 feet (3.36 m)

Upper: 2,296 feet (700 m)

Lower: 0 feet (0 m)

The Key Differences Between Sitka Spruce and Redwood

While Sitka spruce and redwoods are all part of the division of trees known as conifers (Coniferophyta or Coniferae), they exist in separate families and species.

There are three main species of redwood trees: dawn, coast, and giant. All three species are part of the cypress (Cupressaceae) family while Sitka spruce is in the pine (Pinaceae) family. Each tree grows in different locations and hardiness zones and has different physical and biological traits. 

Here are the five main differences between these four types of trees.

Sitka Spruce vs. Redwood: Classification

Summer Foliage on Evergreen Coniferous Sitka Spruce Trees (Picea sitchensis) Growing in a Woodland Forest with a Bright Blue Sky Background in Rural Devon, England, UK

Sitka spruce is the largest of 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the



©Peter Turner Photography/

The Sitka spruce and all three redwood species lie in different genera.

Giant redwoods, also known as giant sequoia, are the only extant species that lie in the Sequoiadendron genus. Its scientific name is Sequoiadendron giganteum. Meanwhile, the coast redwood is the only extant species of the different Sequoia genus. Its scientific name is Sequoia sempervirens.

Dawn redwood is part of the Metasequoia genus, and the scientific name is Metasequoia glyptostroboides. The dawn redwood is a deciduous conifer, a species that essentially borders between deciduous and coniferous.

Most species of trees fall under either deciduous or coniferous. Deciduous trees have their leaves fall off yearly, while coniferous trees bear cones and have needles that do not fall off at all. 

A deciduous conifer, like the dawn redwood, essentially mixes both characteristics. It forms both cones and needles like conifers, but also changes colors and loses those needles every year in the fall, like a deciduous tree.

Finally, Sitka spruce is in the pine family and falls under the Picea genus. Its scientific name is Picea sitchensis.


Giant SequoiaCoast RedwoodDawn RedwoodSitka Spruce
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Superdivision: Spermatophyta
Division: Coniferophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Sequoiadendron
Species: Sequoiadendron giganteum
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Superdivision: Spermatophyta
Division: Coniferophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Sequoia
Species: Sequoia sempervirens
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Superdivision: Spermatophyta
Division: Coniferophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Metasequoia
Species: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Superdivision: Spermatophyta
Division: Coniferophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Picea
Species: Picea sitchensis

Sitka Spruce vs. Redwood: Distribution

Rainbird Hiking Trail in Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan, Alaska. Sitka spruce, ferns, and rocky trail through temperate rain forest.

Sitka spruces are typically found along the northern coasts of California and Alaska.

©EWY Media/

While Sitka spruces can grow in the same areas as redwoods, the four species tend to grow across various environments.

Giant sequoias are mostly native to the mountain ranges of Sierra Nevada and California. They typically grow in groves spanning about 248 miles (400 km) along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, with groves in Sequoia National Park as well.

Coast redwood is native to southwestern Oregon and California. It tends to grow along the narrow band of the Pacific Coast in groves. The southernmost grove is in Monterey County, CA. The northernmost grove lies in southwestern Oregon. Some of the largest specimens grow in Redwood National Park and State Parks.

Dawn redwood used to be a widespread species in places like North America, Asia, and Greenland around 50,000,000 years ago. Long thought to be extinct, Chinese forester, Gan Duo, and Chinese botanist, Wang Zhan, rediscovered it in a remote valley of the Szechwan province in 1941.

From there, a small group of researchers found a few thousand dawn redwoods in the lowland canyons of south-central China between 1947 and 48. They then reintroduced them to the United States and elsewhere.

Now, the tree grows primarily in the hills and wetlands of China’s Hubei’s Lichuan County and the Hunan Province, though specimens exist all across the world.

Sitka spruces primarily grow along forests on the northwest coast of North America, specifically in the humid ranges of northern California and Alaska. The most extensive range is in southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia, along a narrow strip of the mainland covering about 130 miles (210 km).

Sitka Spruce vs. Redwood: Hardiness Zone

Commercial Sitka Spruce reforestation plantation

Sitka spruces are hardy to USDA Zones 6 to 8.

©Callums Trees/

The Hardiness Zone Map encompasses 13 geographic zones across the world that are divided based on the area’s average minimum temperature.

Going over each of the redwoods individually, giant sequoias are hardy to USDA Zone 6, coast redwoods are hardy to zones 7 to 10, and dawn is hardy to zones 4 to 8.

Giant sequoias can easily withstand the cold climates of areas such as the Sierra Nevada and can grow at elevations of up to 8,858 feet (2,700 m). 

Coast redwoods can grow at elevations of up to 3,018 feet (920 m) and thrive in arid and dry environments, such as the California coastline.

Dawn redwoods prefer the cool humidity found across zones 4 to 8 and can grow up to elevations 3,967 feet (1209.32 m) above sea level.

Sitka spruces can grow at elevations ranging from sea level to about 2,296 feet (700 m) although can vary depending on the state. The tree is hardy to USDA zones 6 to 8.

Sitka Spruce vs. Redwood: Size and Shape

Looking strait up in an Alaska rain-forest through Sitka Spruce

Sitka spruces have a very long and slender shape.

©Tim Hancock/

The three redwoods have distinct sizes and traits that separate them from Sitka spruces.

Giant sequoias tend to develop very fast and can grow anywhere from 100 to 300 feet (30 to 91 m) tall. They possess massive trunks with a small taper at the top.

The coast redwood is considered the tallest tree in the world, growing anywhere from 200 to 325 feet (60 to 99 m). They have a pyramid-like shape, distinguished by a narrow point at the crown.

Dawn redwoods tend to be much shorter than the other two species. They usually grow anywhere from 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 m) tall. However, a specimen discovered in 1947 in the Shuishaba Valley in China was recorded to have been over 165 feet (50 m) tall. They have a pyramid-like shape and are known for their colorful leaves.

Sitka spruces are the third largest tree in the world and can grow anywhere from 40 to 230 feet (12 to 70 m) tall. They have a tall and slender appearance, with their upper branches extending outwards and smaller branches facing down.

Sitka Spruce vs. Redwood: Characteristics

A branch of a Spruce Tree, Sitka, Picea sitchensis, growing in woodland

Sitka spruce cones are about 1-3 inches long and sprout wavy, toothed scales.

©Karel Bock/

The most noteworthy differences between redwoods and Sitka spruces are their physical characteristics.

All three redwood species share beautiful red-brown bark. Giant sequoias possess blueish-green, scale-like leaves that grow to about 0.25 inches (0.64 cm) long.

Coast redwoods possess deep green needle-like leaves that grow to 0.6 to 1 inch (1.5 to 2.5 cm) long, whereas dawn redwoods possess fern-like, feathery leaves that are about 1 inch long.

Sitka spruces have smooth, purplish-brown bark. Its open crown branches sprout 1-inch long, four-sided, sharp-tipped needles that are blue-green in color. Male and female cones start to appear from early April to early June.

All three redwoods are monoecious, and grow both male and female parts on separate cones.

Giant sequoias produce mature, egg-shaped cones that are about 1.97 to 3.54 inches (5 to 9 cm) in length. Fertilization is complete by the summer and most cones yield about 200 seeds.

Coast redwood cones are only about 0.8 to 1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm) long. They begin flowering during the rainy months of December and January and mature by the fall. The tree produces about 100,000 seeds annually.

Dawn redwood cones range from 0.5 to 1 inch (1.27 to 2.5 cm) in length. Each cone holds about 100 seeds, emerges in spring, and sets during the summer.

The cones of Sitka spruce bloom between late April and early June. They don’t begin to mature until late August/early September. They are only about 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5cm) long and sprout thin wavy, and irregularly toothed scales.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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