Easy Evergreen Tree Identification Part 1: Pine Trees!

Easy Evergreen Tree Identification Part 1: Pine Trees!

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Need to tell the difference between a Pine and a Fir? How does a Hemlock differ from a Yew? 

pine

There are so many wonderful varieties of Evergreen Trees around! Sometimes when you are out for a walk, you may find yourself referring to all of them as just Pine Trees. Understandably, the layman arborist may not be able to tell each type apart!

Check out Part 1 of a series where Nature Hills explains what makes the Pine Tree unique from the rest! This quick guide will help you identify and differentiate these easiest-to-recognize needle-bearing trees on the fly and know about the many different varieties available for your landscape!

Pine Tree Basics

The gorgeous and easiest-to-identify coniferous evergreen features a shaggy pyramidal to rounded profile with long, shaggy needle-like leaves. Their fluffy appearance and motion in the wind are the usual telltale signs from a distance.

pine trees

Divided into Soft Pine and Hard Pine (depending on how strong the timber is), there are 126 species of Pinus are found throughout the world and the US has about 35 varieties. Adaptable to high elevations and poor soil, Pines prefer acidic well-drained environments.

Like most Conifers, these trees are monoecious and have separate male cones and female cones on the same tree. The pollen is wind-pollinate, blowing from one tree to the next. Typically the male cones are higher up on the tree than the female cones while wind and gravity does the rest.

Pine Tree Needles

New growth is held in prominent “candles” in the spring and is typically a lighter green to yellow! Arranged in tufts around the flexible stem like a rosette, with sections of bare, flexible stem dividing each year's growth. Depending on the species - multiple needles (2, 3, or 5) are held in bunches on the stem.

needles

White Pine has 5 needles per cluster (white has 5 letters!) compared to Red Pine which has three needles per cluster (red has three letters!)

  • Needle bunches are held to the stem by a papery sheath called a fascicle
  • Flaky reddish-brown bark, texture varies between species
  • Very resinous and lots of sap drips when damaged

While considered evergreens, Pines usually keep their needles for about 2 years before replacing them with new growth. The interior-most and oldest growth is light to yellowish-green and the older yellow needles that are ready to be cast off will collect beneath the tree. This Pine straw makes great mulch around the garden!

The Pine Cones

pinecone

Not just for the squirrels and making craft projects out of! Many songbirds rely on the winged seeds hidden among the scales of the Pine cone.

  • Male cones produce pollen then fall off in the spring
  • Mature female cones can have a sharp spike at the end of each cone scale
  • Female cones have very hard scales and only open in some conditions and humidity
  • Other varieties only open when exposed to fire
  • Typically hang down from the branches
  • Pines typically have sharp pointed spikes on the cone scales

Male cones can be yellow to tan, sometimes reddish, and are held in clusters in the spring. While the female seed-bearing cones are long and slender for the most part.

Pine Tree Facts!

facts infographic

  • Largest Pine cones - Sugar and Coulter Pines have 2-foot-long cones
  • Bristlecone Pine has the smallest cones
  • Aptly named Longleaf Pine can have 18-inch long needles
  • Shortleaf Pine has needles 3-5 inches long
  • A Bristlecone Pine called the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) is the oldest living organism on earth - at an estimated age of 4,850 years old!
  • Roughly 4,600 years old, Methuselah is another Great Basin Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains of California
  • The tallest Pine tree is 268.35 feet tall and found in Oregon
  • Typical life span is 100 years or more
  • Most Pines live in the Northern Hemisphere except for the Sumatran Pine
  • Turpentine is made by distilling high-terpene resin, which is abundant in Pine trees
  • The resin is also used to treat insect bites, burns, and blisters
  • The needles can be steeped as tea for a high Vitamin C boost!
  • Pine nuts (Pinola nuts) are a favorite Mediterranean food addition. Get yours from Pinyon Pines.

Types of Pine Trees!

Bird-friendly, wildlife safe-havens, and so useful, the needles, bark, timber, pinecones, and seeds all have a use in our day-to-day lives! Not to mention the fast shade, curb appeal, and mighty legacies these ornamentals have on our landscapes!

Nature Hills has many types of gorgeous native Pines for you to choose from!

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

eastern white pine

The native Eastern White Pine tree is a hardy evergreen native to eastern North America. It is long-lived, fast-growing and vigorous. One of the most magnificent soft-needled White Pine features regular arrangements of long, bluish-green needles in bundles of five. You'll love running your hands along the foliage! The curved pine cones are used for birdseed and seasonal décor.

Want an Eastern White Pine but have no room?

  • Check out the Blue Shag Eastern White Pine with blue-green needles and dwarf 2-4 foot tall and wide growth!
  • The cultivar Tiny Kurls Eastern White Pine has unique contorted, twisting, curvy needles and grows just 3 - 6 feet tall and a bit wider!

Either of these unique cultivars can be easily made into Bonsai or planted in containers on the front porch or back patio!

Austrian Pine/Black Pine (Pinus nigra)

Austrian Pine

The fat and fluffy Austrian Pine has strong evergreen branches that will screen undesirable views, reduce sound pollution, and protect your home from strong winds. Its year-round good looks are a bonus! Fast-growing, this dark green variety, also known as the European Black Pine, can add 3 feet or more of new growth in a season in optimal conditions. These are fantastic evergreens for urban roadways and interchanges. They are salt tolerant and able to withstand dry conditions. The 5-6" long needles absorb a lot of noise and vibrations and are good plants to include along sound barriers. Cones start as conical green and hang down or in clusters, opening to brown 4-6 inch cones with pointed scales.

Scotch Pine/Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Scotch Pine

The Scotch Pine, also known as Scots pine, is a fast-growing, conical to columnar, medium-sized conifer with distinctive flaking orange to red-brown bark. Once common and popular across the Midwest, until a blight began taking a toll on local populations. The pyramid form and gray-green color complement any landscape. This is one of the most cold-hardy and easy-going of all evergreens. It tolerates any soil and especially loves sandy or clay soils. It is a hardy tree that grows rapidly for a Pine tree and tolerates prolonged drought. Scotch Pine practically thrives on neglect! Cones can be 1-2 inches long and are often rounded.

Need a cute dwarf version that can replace sometimes tricky Alberta Spruce? Try the Green Penguin Dwarf Scotch Pine! Or try the regal dark blue-green French Dark Green Scotch Pine.

Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Ponderosa Pine

The formidable Ponderosa Pine is one of the tallest growing Pines, sometimes called the Western Yellow Pine or Bull Pine, Ponderosa tops out at up to 80 feet on average. The Ponderosa Pine is the most frequently planted of the large, long-needled native Pines. The soft dark green needles are 6-10 inches long, arranged in bundles of three, with cones that can reach 3 to 5 inches long. Ponderosa will grow on most soils including very sandy soils and sites with very little topsoil. A major source of timber, this large evergreen can live 300 to 600 years. Ponderosa Pine develops a taproot early in life that enables the tree to survive stressful conditions such as extended drought.

Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)

The southern giant Loblolly Pine tree is hardy throughout USDA planting zones 6 to 9 and is a fast-growing, straight-as-an-arrow tree that handles growing in most soils, including wet, acidic, and clay! Sometimes referred to as a Bull Pine for its massive size (60 - 80 feet), the resinous needles are 6-10 inches long and have a fantastic fragrance, which is why it's also nicknamed Rosemary Pine. This makes a great choice if you need to create a fast screen or windbreak, and thrives in fire-prone areas. The large cones are elongated and tapering, almost egg-like, and can be 3-6 inches long with triangular spines at the ends of each scale.

Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta var. murrayana)

lodgepole pine

A very fragrant, and easily recognizable tree, the Lodgepole Pine is a native with a perfectly vertical trunk and very narrow-growing canopy. The finer texture of the bark is very aromatic and the lumber has a long historical use because of its straight growth. The egg-shaped Pinecones can remain attached for 15-20 years, reach 1-3 inches, and appear in clusters. Also known as the Shore Pine, the needles are typically 1-3 inches long.

Similar to the Lodgepole, the Shore Pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta) is a mid-sized native along the western coast from Alaska to Northern California. Handling wind and salt spray, the name 'contorta var. contorta' should indicate the Shore Pines' contorted, twisting, wild form at maturity!

Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)

The aptly named Longleaf Pine is well known for its especially long needles. The 80 - 100 foot mature height of these trees can be a bit slow, but they grow in the southern USDA planting zones 7 to 9. Stick-straight Longleaf Pine trunks have a soft-textured canopy that sways back and forth in the slightest breeze. New growth buds appear silvery white and are particularly attractive in the winter landscape! Aging into incredibly long, dark green needles 8 to 17 inches in length! The cones reach 5 to 12 inches in length and have an elongated oval shape.

Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)

red pine

A cold-hardy Pine with a super straight trunk, the Red Pine (sometimes called Norway Pine) is a tall, straight, majestic tree that thrives in the Northern USDA planting zones 3 to 7! It self-prunes and drops dead branches as it grows, giving mature trees a nice clean trunk as it grows older. These are perfect trees for windbreaks on large properties or for a year-round green in hard winter places. The gray flaky bark has a rusty hue and the needles are held in clusters of three. Growing 4 to 6 inches long, the needles break instead of bending. The cone is rounded to egg-shaped and around 2 inches long.

Single-Needle Piñón Pine (Pinus monophylla)

The Single-Needle Piñón Pine another native to high elevations in the southwestern US, the Piñón or Pinyon Pine is a mid-sized tree with fragrant resin and wood to perfume your landscape with the aroma of the Southwest. The thick trunk and gray-green to strongly waxy pale blue-green 1-2 inch long needles remain on the plentiful branches for many years. The Single-Needle only has one needle per fascicle and sweeps upward like a Concolor Fir. Young trees feature a compact, oval shape that eventually opens up a bit in form. Producing brown, rose-shaped cones that produce healthy, valuable, edible pine nuts in the fall. Press for oil, or add to pesto, salads, baked goods, and as a resinous flavor in sauces and savory dishes! If you don’t eat them, the wildlife and birds will!

Other Native Varieties of Pine Tree

Nature Hills Nursery is busy at work to bring in new and exciting varieties for you every year! Check out some other great Pine Trees that are native to the US and some we hope will be available on the website one day soon!

Jack Pine

  • Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) aka Possum/Scrub/Jersey Pine. Is a mid-sized Pine found along the eastern US.
  • Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) is found in the southwestern US and Mexico, this very flexible Pine is also called the Rocky Mountain White Pine. There are also Black Hills Limber Pines found around the Black Hills of the Dakotas.
  • Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) is another East Coast native that thrives in sandy, acidic, and poor soil areas from Maine to Georgia. Small to mid-sized, the name Pitch refers to its rigid or stiff growth and not the Pine pitch/resin some of these trees produce copious amounts of.
  • Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), also known as the Gray or Scrub Pine, is another North American native with a spreading open to cone-shaped crown with yellow-green needles. Earning the name Scrub Pine because of the informal growth and how dead branches remain on the tree for years.
  • Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) are native Pines typically found throughout the American West at higher elevations, the Bristlecone is a long-lived conifer with aptly named cones with bristle-like structures. Despite being one of the longest-living trees on earth, Bristlecones pinecones themselves are among the smallest of the Pinus family! The tree features a unique twisting, contorted trunk. Surviving ice ages and volcanic eruptions, these are incredibly resilient trees!
  • Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) features 2-foot-long elongated pine cones and is among the tallest Pines around. Deep-rooted natives with dark green needles, Sugar Pine have sweeping graceful branches ornamented with heavy cones pulling the branch tips down. Typically found throughout the Northwestern US and down to Mexico in higher elevations. Called Sugar Pines because Native Americans used the sweet resin as a sweetener comparable to Maple Syrup!
  • Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) is a southeastern native that grows in 'slashes' which are swampy, marshes, and boggy areas. Growing upwards of 100 feet, these go by other names like Yellow Slash Pine and Florida Pine.
  • Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata) is one of the largest Southern Yellow Pines but is found from New York to Northern Florida and as far west as Texas. Going by many names including Old Field Pine, Spruce Pine, Rosemary Pine, Two-leaf Pine, and Heart Pine. As the name implies, it has very short needles.

Get the kids outside and go on a nature walk to see how many of your region's native Pines you can identify! Collect some pinecones and make some crafts and try your hand at some wildcrafting with these versatile trees! Then check out all the Native trees in your state to see what other indigenous plants should be growing in your area.

infographic

Other Non-Native Pines At Nature Hills

  • Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) exquisite evergreens that can have twisted stems and an open tiered branching and an airy texture! The dark needles are contrasted by their white candles in the spring. At maturity, this Pine forms a flat-topped canopy that becomes adorned with 5-7-inch long pinecones. Able to reach 50 - 70 feet tall and 25 - 40 feet wide. For a unique smaller version, try the Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine.
  • Chinese Red Pine (Pinus tabuliformis) features pigmented reddish bark and small, reddish-brown cones with broad scales and edible nuts. The gray-green needles fill out a flat-topped canopy when mature, and the aromatic pulp is reminiscent of vanilla.
  • Chinese White Pine (Pinus armandii) initially grows conical with a dense arrangement of whorled branches but becomes rounded and irregular at maturity. Known for its very distinctive, almost prehistoric look and edible pine nuts.
  • Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) is similar to the Eastern White Pine and has a well-balanced, mid-sized pyramidal canopy. Korean Pines hold onto their blue-toned needles for three years.
  • Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo var. mugo) is a shorter, shrub-like Pine. Its native habitat of the mountains of Germany and Poland, the Mugo Pine is a low-growing variety with a dense growth habit and rounded nature. Growing no more than 3 - 5 feet while spreading 6-10, these evergreens offer structure and sculptural accents to your landscape.

Picturesque Pines at Nature Hills!

Habitat for squirrels, raccoons, birds, and other forest animals, Pine Trees are easy-to-grow and fast-growing evergreens!

With year-round greenery and fluffy form, the lovely Pine Tree will delight you and your local wildlife! Check out all the varieties available at Nature Hills and stay tuned for How To Identify Evergreen Trees Part 2: Hemlock Trees!

Happy Planting!

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