The most southern white pine stand is in northern Illinois

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112127249231833.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘The Eastern White Pine grows in the northeastern U.S. Branching occurs in whorls around the trunk, giving the species a unique appearance. It can attain very tall height and large trunk size when allowed to grow old.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112127256628634.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘The white pine is easily identified by the bluish-green needles regularly occuring in bundle of five.’);

The Eastern white pine, Pinus strobus l., is the largest of the conifers in the northeastern United States. It was the foremost timber tree of colonial America, the choicest of which were marked with the King’s brand, reserving them for use as masts for the Royal Navy. The tree’s range is from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south through the northern United States to Pennsylvania, northern Ohio and southeastern Iowa. It also grows southward along the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia. It still exists in this range, but not in stands where it is the dominant tree. It has been given the honor of being named the state tree of Maine.

It is estimated that the original stand of white pine in North America amounted to about 750 billion board feet of timber, but after 200 years of heavy lumbering, the virgin stands of this tree were all but gone by the year 1900. When the forests dominated by the white pine were cut, it was succeeded by the more shade-tolerant hardwoods such as oaks and hickories. Today, the most southern stand of the white pine in the United States is in the 385-acre White Pines State Park near Mount Morris, Ill. in Ogle County.

When the early settlers first arrived in that area, they found a 700-acre forest of virgin white pine stretching along a creek that was appropriately named Pine Creek. Around 1900, a movement was started to preserve this natural phenomenon, and a bill was passed by the Legislature that appropriated $30,000 for the purchase of the land. Unfortunately, an unsympathetic governor vetoed the bill. The nature lovers of Ogle County did not give up, however, and in 1927 they experienced success and the forest was acquired.

The white pine is a magnificent forest tree, which at maturity may attain a height of 80 feet or more, with the trunk diameter being 2 to 4 feet. The tree grows straight and tall in dense stands with lateral branches high above the ground. When it grows in the open, however, the trunk often forks, and lateral branches are found much closer to the ground.

The white pine is the easiest of our pines to identify as the bluish-green needles are regularly arranged in bundles of five.

The virgin stands of this pine were decimated because it is one of our most valuable timber trees. The wood is soft, light, strong, and is resistant to warping. It is in demand for general construction work, interior finish, and a variety of other uses (for example, individuals who make the handles for the tongs used to catch oysters from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay prefer the wood of the white pine to all others).

As a shade or ornamental tree, it has few peers among the pines. It is adaptable to a variety of soils and is a rapid grower. Unfortunately, when young, it is susceptible to a fungus disease, the white pine blister rust, which has an alternate host in wild currants and gooseberries.

Indians are said to have utilized the inner bark of the white pine as food, and it was employed as an ingredient in cough medicine and other remedies used by Native Americans and early settlers. Rabbits and porcupines love the bark of young white pines, and squirrels extract the seeds from the cones, as do birds such as the crossbills and the pine suskin.

White Pines State Park, which is about an hour’s drive from the Rockford area, is the perfect place for family getaways. There are a host of outdoor activities available for recreation, with modern lodge facilities amidst a beautiful forest. It is truly a nature lover’s delight. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed the White Pines Inn along with 24 one-room guest log cabins. Though the inn and guest cabins have been completely modernized, the original stone and timbers have been retained to enhance the original structure. For the more adventuresome, the park offers 107 Class C campsites, with vehicular access, as well as tent and trailer sites.

The Inn features a dinner-theater at various times of the year and is an outstanding bargain. I recently attended a presentation of Guys and Dolls performed by talent from the Rock River Valley, and I thoroughly enjoyed the production as well as the food in the buffet.

If you have not been to White Pines State Park, you are missing a wonderful opportunity to commune with nature and enjoy the aesthetic beauty of a well maintained state facility.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

From the July 13-19, 2005, issue

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