According to Wilson this spruce attains 100 ft in height in Western China and closely resembles in general outline the common European spruce (P. abies) but is more glaucous in colour; young shoots pale, yellowish, changing to grey, and either glabrous or more or less downy. Leaves 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, four-angled in cross-section, stiff, pointed, with a few lines of stomata on all four surfaces; the uppermost ones of the twigs point forwards, those at the side and underneath standing out at right angles; the pegs left by the fallen leaves are very stiff, large and prominent. Cones cylindrical, up to 4 in. long, 13⁄4 in. wide, ‘fawn-grey when ripe, changing to chestnut-brown with age and retained on the tree six months after they mature’ (Wilson); cone-scales variable in shape, obovate, rounded or truncate at the top.
Native of W. China; named from specimens collected by Wilson in 1903 but introduced to cultivation by seeds he sent home in 1910. He describes it as the common quadrangular-leaved spruce of N.W. Szechwan, especially in the region of Sungpan in the Upper Min valley, where he collected the type-specimen and some of the seeds sent in 1910 (W. 4061). His other sendings of typical P. asperata were from farther south.
P. asperata is slow-growing when young, and subject to damage by late spring frosts. But it is well represented in collections by trees from the seeds sent by Wilson and later by Dr J. Rock. Examples are: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, pl. 1919, 45 × 4 ft (1969); Westonbirt, Glos., pl. 1936, 60 × 41⁄4 ft (1974), and several others, one from Rock 15042; National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1925, 50 × 4 ft (1974); Hergest Croft, Heref., pl. 1916, 59 × 33⁄4 ft (1961); Bicton, Devon, 58 × 31⁄2 ft and 50 × 41⁄4 ft (1968); Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Eire, 49 × 4 ft (1966). The cultivated trees vary in colour from grey-green to glaucous.
Wilson found a large-coned form of P. asperata in the Pan-lan-shan (some 200 miles to the south of the type-locality of the species); this was introduced under W.4068 and named var. ponderosa Rehd. & Wils. Another variety described from the same area is var. notabilis Rehd. & Wils., in which the cone-scales are acute; seeds of this were sent under W.4067. But typical P. asperata also occurs in the Pan-lan-shan, and it is probable that these varieties are only minor fluctuations, comparable to those that occur in the common spruce (P. abies). In var. heterolepis (Rehd. & Wils.) Rehd., the cone-scales are emarginate. More distinct is:
var. retroflexa (Mast.) Boom P. retroflexa Mast. – Bark grey, shed in large thin plates. Shoots usually golden yellow. Leaves stout, pungently pointed. Cones with acute scales. According to Wilson, this is the common spruce in the neighbourhood of Tatsien-lu (Kangting). It is in cultivation from W.4083.