Wilderness Underfoot: The eastern white pine

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11654350101866.jpg’, ”, ‘A northern Illinois native – Although it is widely planted across the eastern U.S. and Canada, the natural range of Pinus strobus is limited to the area around the Great Lakes, up through the Northeast, down into the Appalachians, and in the extreme southeast region of Canada. White pine forests once covered that same territory, but the wood was so favored for buildings and shipping (particularly the tall masts) that the forests were cleared. You can distinguish this tree from other pines by the number of needles, with five emerging from each bundle. The needles average from 2.5 to 5 inches in length, and the cones can grow up to 7 inches long. ‘);

This is the tallest tree east of the Rocky Mountains.

With the potential of growing more than 230 feet tall, the eastern white pine towers over the other trees of our region—or so it would, if allowed to grow long enough. The wood of this tree has been a popular construction material since Europeans arrived on the continent and cleared the eastern old-growth forests. It will take some time for the somewhat younger trees living in the wild today to reach their full height; these pines have a 200 to 400-year lifespan.

Fortunately, the eastern white pine is an aggressive tree. It is quite hardy and has a high tolerance for fires. In areas where smaller trees and undergrowth have been destroyed by fire, the mature eastern white pine not only survives burning, but it readily reseeds the barren landscape.

As a lumber crop or an ornamental tree, it can be planted far outside of its native zone. The eastern white pine is grown and harvested commercially for its excellent wood. The soft, lightweight wood is used in rough construction and for finish carpentry. It is known for resistance to warping and checking, and clean boards are favored for carving. Rougher, knottier boards are favored for their rustic character.

The other use for the eastern white pine is as a Christmas tree. Grown on tree farms, pines are harvested at 6 to 8 years of age. These trees have excellent needle retention after cutting, although they aren’t as aromatic as other conifers used for Christmas trees.

Pines are the most common conifers in North America. Unlike deciduous trees, which lose their leaves following each year’s growing season, pine trees can hold on to their individual needles as long as 40 years at a time. On the eastern white pine, needles live for two years before being replaced. Pines are generally long lived, and the title for world’s oldest tree goes to a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine—having survived more than 4,800 years.

In the wild, especially in old-growth forests, hollows in old pines provide shelter to woodland animals.

From the Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2006, issue

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