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Spruces can be distinguished from other members of the pine family by their needles (leaves), which are four-sided and attached singly to small persistent peg-like structures (pulvini or sterigmata) on the branches, and by their cones (without any protruding bracts), which hang downwards after they are pollinated. The needles are shed when 4–10 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained pegs. In other similar genera, the branches are fairly smooth.
In the mountains of western Sweden, scientists have found a Norway spruce, nicknamed Old Tjikko, which by reproducing through layering, has reached an age of 9,550 years and is claimed to be the world's oldest known living tree.
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