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Tree to 30 m, 0.6–0.8 m dbh. Bark purplish brown, smooth then flaking in young trees, becoming dark grey-brown, rough, scaly and fissured in older trees. Crown conical or pyramidal. Branchlets slender, firm, pale yellowish brown or red-brown, turning grey-brown, glabrous or slightly pubescent, pulvini small; vegetative buds very resinous. Leaves spreading forwards, glaucous- or bluish green, rhombic in cross-section, 1.2–2.2(–2.5) × 0.15–0.18 cm, apex acute or obtuse. Male strobili 1.5–2.5 cm long, yellowish. Cones terminal, sessile, ovoid-oblong or cylindrical, (4–)5–8 × 2.5–4 cm, green or purplish initially, orange-brown or dull brown when mature. Seed scales obovate-oblong, 1.3–1.9 × 1.1–1.6 cm, upper margin entire, rounded or obtuse. Seeds dark brown, ovoid-conical, 0.3–0.4 × 0.2–2.5 cm, wings yellowish, transparent, ovate-oblong, 1.2–1.6 × 0.6–0.8 cm. Farjon 1990, Fu et al. 1999c. Distribution CHINA: Heilongjiang, Jilin; NORTH KOREA; RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Primorye. Habitat Mountain slopes and along streams between 1000 and 1500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Farjon 1990, Fu et al. 1999c; NT571. Taxonomic note Two varieties of P. koraiensis are recognised – var. pungsanensis (Uyeki ex Nakai) Farjon, from North Korea, and var. nenjiangensis S.Q. Nie & X.Y. Yuan, from northeast China – neither of which are known to be in cultivation.
In the past there seems to have been some confusion between this species and the Japanese Picea koyamae, making it somewhat difficult to trace its early introductions, but it arrived at Arboretum Mustula, Finland in the 1920s or ’30s (K. Rushforth, pers. comm. 2007). It has been grown since 1940 at the Arnold Arboretum, where there are also specimens from accessions in succeeding decades. The Scottish gardens have several trees as well, dating to 1973 in the case of an individual at Benmore of unrecorded origin, with later accessions coming from official sources in North Korea or China (Jilin, Nei Mongol, Heilongjiang). When young it is an attractive tree, forming a neat conical shape with branches to the ground, but as plants age they become sparser at the base. The foliage varies from a dull mid-green to quite glaucous, but the spring flush is an attractive pale green. The female cones can be a nice dark purple when young. It seems to grow well in many places, but a tree at Kew, received as seed collected in Jilin by the Chinese Academy of Forestry in 1979, has so far reached only 3 m and is becoming sparse at the base, suggesting that it resents the warm dry conditions of west London. In contrast, a slightly younger specimen at Wakehurst Place was 8 m tall in 2005, and a 1986 accession at the Morris Arboretum was a healthy and vigorous 6 m in 2006. The species is currently available commercially in Europe and North America, including from Golden Bough Tree Farm, Ontario, Canada (a nursery specialising in plants for cold climates, that describes itself as ‘a research station disguised as a business’: Golden Bough Tree Farm 2009).