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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Plant of the Month: White Pine (Pinus strobus)

One of my favorite places to be is up North on a cool summer's day surrounded by the luscious smell and whispering quiet of a white pine forest.  The needles underfoot muffle the sound of footsteps while a gentle breeze carries their smell through the air.  The long, soft needles swish gently far overhead.  This place possesses an unparalleled sense of peace that endures in my memory.

The eastern white pine is a magnificent evergreen tree.  It towers over most other trees, typically reaching 50-80 feet (15-24 meters), but
can occasionally grow up to 200 feet (61 meters).  They can reach a width up to 40 feet (12 meters) and have been known to live up to 500 years!  It is no wonder that standing among them induces a sense of timelessness, spiritual calm, and even of being very small within a very big world.

This tree was once found nearly everywhere throughout the state of Michigan.  The lumber was so sought after that over 160 million trees were cut down as lumber between the years of 1834 and 1897.  The wood was used for everything from building the railways to rebuilding the city of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.   This lumber was an important source of income for the state.  The lumber industry was the financial bridge between the days when the first settlers hunted and traded for fur and the subsequent advent of the automobile industry.  Due to its financial importance to the state the eastern white pine was legally made the state tree on October 14, 1955. (Act 7 of 1955)

This is definitely a tree worth learning about!  So here are the facts:

Names: Pinus strobus, eastern white pine, white pine, pin blanc, soft pine, weymouth pine, northern white pine.  Also known to the Iroquois, Ojibway and Zhingwaak tribes as the "whispering pines" or "the tree of peace".

Shape: Young trees are pyramidal.  When the trees get older, the branches become more horizontal and ascending.

Needles: Soft, evergreen.  3-5 inches (7.6-12.7cm) long .  5 blue-green needles per fascicle.  No fascile sheath.

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Fruit/Flower: 6-8 inch (12-20 cm) long, 1inch (2.5cm) thick, often curved, cones. The cones turn from green to brown with age.  Small finger-shaped yellow pollen heads.

Twigs: Grey-green to orange-brown color.

Bark: On young trees, the bark is a smooth grey-green color.  On older trees, the bark is a thick grey-brown or reddish-brown with prominent ridges.

Where Found:  Zones 3-8 in xeric northern mine forests and mixed hardwood forests.  In Canada they range from Manitoba across to Newfoundland.  In the U.S.A. They range from Minnesota to the Atlantic Coast and south along the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and Alabama.  Please click this link to the USDA's map for current range.

Growing Conditions:  Full sun to light shade.  Seedlings need at least 20% of full sunlight to grow.  Prefers moist well-drained loam, but tolerates anything from light sandy soil to heavy textured soil.

Growth Rate:  Rapid, about 16 inches per year.

Reproduction & Establishment: Pollination takes place between April and June depending upon latitude.  The trees can produce viable seed once they reach an age of 20-30 years.  The seed germinates in spring and is dispersed by wind and wild animals.

Pests & Diseases:  White pine weevil, pine blister rust, sawfly caterpillars, adelgids, bark beetles, eastern pine shoot moths.

Environmental Importance:  The seed feeds: squirrels, voles, mice and 16 species of song bird. 
The foliage feeds: snowshoe hares, deer and cottontails.  The roots of young trees feed pocket gophers.  Due to their height, white pines are the nesting site of 81% of bald eagles,  77% of osprey and the cavities house a variety of nesting wildlife.  Bears also like to climb white pines as an escape from predators.

Economic / Human Uses: Timber, Christmas trees, erosion control.  White pines are often used to stabilize strip mine spoils in the Appalachian coal fields.

Other Interesting Facts:  
  •  White pines are moderately fire resistant.  Mature trees can survive most surface fires.  Seedlings do not usually survive.  
  • White pines are drought tolerant. 
  • Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan has a 50 acre stand of virgin white pines as well as a museum of logging history in Michigan.  It is a wonderful place to visit! 
I hope that my blog has inspired you to seek out and spend more time among the eastern white pines.  To learn more, please visit the web pages listed in the works cited section below, and check out some of the links to the books as well!

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As always, thank you for reading.

Works Cited:

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