Trees of the Adirondacks:
Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus L.)

Trees of the Adirondacks: Eastern White Pine growing on a bedrock outcrop on Heron Marsh (25 July 2015).
Trees of the Adirondacks:  Eastern White Pine normally grows with a straight trunk and a crown of horizontal. parallel branches. Eastern White Pine growing on a bedrock outcrop on Heron Marsh (25 July 2015).

The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus L.) is a large conifer which flourishes throughout the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. It is the tallest of our native evergreens, often reaching 130 feet in height and four feet in diameter. This species is considered to be one of the most valuable trees in eastern North America. It is one of the signature trees of the Adirondacks. 

Eastern White Pine is also referred to as the White Pine, Northern White Pine, Northern Pine, and Soft Pine. In Britain, this species is also called the Weymouth Pine – in honor of English explorer Captain George Weymouth, who took Eastern White Pine seeds to English from Maine in 1605. The Eastern White Pine is the state tree of both Maine (the Pine Tree State) and Michigan and the provincial tree of Ontario.  


Identification of the Eastern White Pine

Trees of the Adirondack Park:  Eastern White Pine on the Barnum Brook Trail at the VIC (12 July 2012).
Trees of the Adirondacks: Eastern White Pine needles grow in a cluster, usually five needles to a cluster. Each needle is about three to five inches long and soft and flexible to the touch. Eastern White Pine on the Barnum Brook Trail(12 July 2012).

The Eastern White Pine is the largest eastern conifer, often growing up to 150 feet tall and up to 40 inches in diameter, depending on the soil. Michael Kudish lists a 275-year-old Eastern White Pine in Paul Smiths that was 49 inches in diameter.

The tallest tree on record in New York State is an Eastern White Pine. This tree, which can be seen in the Elders Grove (also known as the 1675 grove) in nearby Easy Street, is 160.4 feet tall, with a circumference of 13.1 feet and a diameter of 50.1 inches. This tree is one of about fifty Eastern White Pines, most of which are 330 plus years old. The fact that most of the trees are about the same age suggests that they probably germinated after a windstorm or some other disturbance.

The Eastern White Pine normally grows with a straight trunk and a crown of horizontal. parallel branches, with one row added a year, becoming broad and irregular as the tree ages. Because the tree grows higher than surrounding trees, it is subject to wind damage and the branches on the part of the tree that faces the winds often fall off. 

This tree has clustered needles, growing five to a cluster.  Each needle is three to five inches long, bluish green in color, and soft and flexible to the touch.  The long, thin needles seem to whisper in the breeze. 

Trees of the Adirondack Park:  Eastern White Pine on the Barnum Brook Trail (28 July 2012).
Trees of the Adirondacks: Eastern White Pine bark becomes deeply fissured as the tree ages. Eastern White Pine on the Barnum Brook Trail (28 July 2012).

The bark of Eastern White Pine, like that of many trees, changes as the tree matures. When young, the bark is smooth and greenish gray in color. Mature Eastern White Pine trees develop bark with is grayish to reddish-brown, with layers of scales forming ridges that are broken into irregular blocks. As the tree ages further, the furrows in the bark deepen, and irregular, scaly blocks begin to curl outward on the top and bottom.

The cones are four to eight inches long and about one inch thick, with a pointed white tip. Cones are green when immature and turn yellow-green to light brown when ripe. Cones generally remain attached for one to several months after ripening in the fall of the second season. 

Keys to identifying the Eastern White Pine and differentiating it from other maples include its needles, cones, and silhouette.

  • Needle length and bundles provide a handy way to differentiate the Eastern White Pine from other pines that grow in the Adirondack region. The needles of both Red Pine and Eastern White Pine are about the same length, but Red Pine needles come in bundles of two, in contrast to the five-needle bundle of Eastern White Pine. Pitch Pine needles are about three inches long, and come in bundles of three. Jack Pine has short (1-2 inches), stout needles, organized in bundles of two. The non-native Scotch Pine as two- to -three-inch long needles, also organized in bundles of two.
  • The long cones of Eastern White Pine contrast with the egg-shaped cones of Red Pine, Jack Pine, and Pitch Pine, as well as the ice-cream-coned shape of Jack Pine.
  • The Eastern White Pine has upswept branches; and, because it consistently outgrows its associates, its crown often emerges above the forest canopy. The Jack Pine is often small and spindly, with a narrow silhouette. The Red Pine typically has a dense, dome-like crown and often sheds its lower branches. Pitch Pine trees are irregularly limbed and branched, creating an unsymmetrical canopy.
Trees of the Adirondack Park:  Eastern White Pine on the Heron Marsh Trail.
Trees of the Adirondacks: In the colonial period, the long, straight trunks of the Eastern White Pine were used to make ship’s masts. Eastern White Pine on the Heron Marsh Trail.

Uses of the Eastern White Pine

The Eastern White Pine is one of the most important timber trees in the Northeast. Its wood is light, durable, and easy to work. It is used for construction, millwork, trim, and pulpwood. Eastern White Pine also provides good lumber for toys, boxes, cabinet work, and similar items. In addition, the tree is used in Christmas tree plantations, as ornamental plants, and as a windbreak or screen. Pitch can be obtained from the resin and reportedly has been used for waterproofing canoes and as a wood preservative. In the colonial period, the long, straight trunks of the Eastern White Pine were used to make ship’s masts. 

The plant has also edible uses, although it should be avoided by individuals suffering from asthma or bronchitis. The seed reportedly can be ingested raw or cooked, and is mainly used as a flavoring agent. The fresh needles can be brewed into an aromatic tea that is rich in vitamins. Also, the inner bark is said to have been used as a thickener in soups, when dried and ground into a powder.

This plant reportedly was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, primarily as an antiseptic. It was used extensively in the treatment of skin complaints, wounds, burns, and boils. A poultice made from the pounded inner bark was said to be useful in the treatment of cuts, sores and wounds. The Algonquin reportedly used the wetted inner bark as a poultice on the chest in treating colds. The Delaware used an infusion of twigs for pulmonary diseases,

Wildlife Value of the Eastern White Pine

Birds of the Adirondack Park: Chipping Sparrow near Craig Wood Golf Course, Lake Placid (26 April 2016).
Birds of the Adirondacks: Eastern White Pine is a common tree species in the breeding habitat of Chipping Sparrows. Chipping Sparrow near Craig Wood Golf Course, Lake Placid (26 April 2016).

The Eastern White Pine rank among the very top plants in terms of its importance to wildlife. The tree is is valuable for both food and cover. Mammals that eat the seeds, bark, and foliage of Eastern White Pine include American Black Bears, American Beavers, Snowshoe Hares, North American Porcupines, Gray Squirrels, and Eastern Cottontails.

White-footed Mice, Eastern Chipmunks, and Red Squirrels are the dominant mammal seed eaters. If you see large piles of stripped cones and cone scales at the base of a pine, it usually indicates a Red Squirrel midden, a term that refers to both the food cache and the debris that accumulates over months of stripping cones on a nearby log, branch, or stump.

White-tailed Deer also consume Eastern White Pine, but only if little else is available. This species, like other pine species, is considered a starvation food in New York State.

Eastern White Pine is a common tree species in the breeding habitat of a wide variety of birds, including:

Species of songbirds that consume seeds of the Eastern White Pine include Yellow-bellied SapsuckerBlack-capped ChickadeeWhite-breasted NuthatchPine WarblerPine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Pine Siskin.

Birds of the Adirondack Park: Blue Jays near Craig Wood Golf Course, Lake Placid (2 June 2014).
Birds of the Adirondacks: Eastern White Pine is used as a nest site by several species which live in the Adirondack region year-round, including Blue Jays. Blue Jays near Craig Wood Golf Course, Lake Placid (2 June 2014).

Eastern White Pines are used as nest sites by a number of birds, both year-round residents and summer migrants. Large pines are favored nesting sites for hawks and owls.  Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks usually place their nests on large branches next to the trunk. Broad-winged Hawks may build their nests in a crotch near the top of the tree. Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Long-eared Owls reportedly adapt old hawk or crows nests for their own. Barred Owls often nest in trunk cavities and use the tree as a roost.

Eastern White Pines also provide nest sites for Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees, Orchard Orioles, Least Flycatchers, Blue Jays, Common Ravens, American Crows, and Common Grackles. Species which build nests on horizontal limbs or in branch foliage include Mourning Doves, Olive-sided Flycatchers, Magnolia Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, Bay-breasted Warblers, Pine Warblers, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins.  Pine needles are used as nest materials by several species of songbird, including Alder Flycatchers and Philadelphia Vireos.

Distribution of the Eastern White Pine

Eastern White Pine is found in northeastern United States and southern Canada. Its range includes southern Canada from Newfoundland, Anticosti Island, and Gaspé peninsula of Quebec; west to central and western Ontario and extreme southeastern Manitoba; south to southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa; east to northern Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; and south mostly in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina.

This species is present in every county in New York State, including all counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line.

Habitat of the Eastern White Pine

The Eastern White Pine is found in areas where the July temperature averages between 65 and 74 degrees. It can grow in a wide variety of soils, ranging from light, sandy soils to heavy, textured soils. The species is most frequently found on well-drained outwash soils, but is also present on well-trained tills. Eastern White Pine will also grow on imperfectly drained soils, but does poorly on the poorly drained sites. It is tolerant of drought, but cannot tolerate atmospheric pollution. The species is mid-tolerant to intolerant of shade; the tree must receive full sun at least for a good portion of the day.

Given these rather flexible requirements, Eastern White Pine flourishes in a wide variety of wet to dry habitats. It is frequently seen on the edges of lakes and ponds. Although it can be found in pure stands, this tree usually needs disturbances or openings to establish, and is therefore only a small component of the tree canopy in many forests.

Eastern White Pine is present in all successional stages. It is a pioneer species on old fields and other disturbed sites, reforesting abandoned fields, burned areas, and blowdowns. Eastern White Pines also become established after logging operations, particularly clearcuts. For instance, in the Forest Ecosystem Research and Demonstration Area (FERDA) plots, Eastern White Pine increased in abundance on four out of the five blocks a decade after logging. Eastern White Pine also functions as a long-lived successional species, and may be a component of climax forests throughout its range.

In the Adirondack Park, Eastern White Pine can be found in a wide variety of ecological communities:

Eastern White Pine is seen along most of the Adirondack trails covered here, particularly those which pass through Pine-Northern Hardwood Forests. This is a mixed wood forest that occurs on gravelly outwash plains, delta sands, eskers, and dry lake sands in the Adirondacks.

Adirondack Tree List


References

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Trees of the Adirondack Mountains

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