Two unrelated, geographically distinct, highly embryogenic lines of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) were analysed to identify metabolic traits characteristic for lines with good yields of high-quality embryos. The results were compared with corresponding characteristics of a poorly productive line (low embryo yield, scarce high-quality embryos). The following carbohydrate profiles and spectra during maturation, desiccation and germination were identified as promising characteristics for line evaluation: a gradual decrease in total soluble carbohydrates with an increasing sucrose: hexose ratio during maturation; accumulation of raffinose family oligosaccharides resulting from desiccation and their rapid degradation at the start of germination; and a decrease in sucrose, increase in hexoses and the appearance of pinitol with proceeding germination. We propose that any deviation from this profile in an embryonic line is a symptom of inferior somatic embryo development. We further propose that a fatty acid spectrum dominated by linoleic acid (18: 2) was a common feature of healthy spruce somatic embryos, although it was quite different from zygotic embryos mainly containing oleic acid (18: 1). The responses of the lines to osmotic stress were evaluated based on comparison of control (without osmoticum) and polyethylene glycol (PEG)-exposed (PEG 4000) variants. Although genetically distinct, both highly embryogenic lines responded in a very similar manner, with the only difference being sensitivity to high concentrations of PEG. At an optimum PEG concentration (3.75 and 5%), which was line specific, negative effects of PEG on embryo germination were compensated for by a higher maturation efficiency so that the application of PEG at an appropriate concentration improved the yield of healthy germinants per gram of initial embryonal mass and accelerated the process. Polyethylene glycol application, however, resulted in no improvement of the poorly productive line.