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Eastern White Pine
|Group of Pinus strobus trees.|
Pinus strobus, commonly known as the eastern white pine, is a large pine native to eastern North America. It occurs from Newfoundland west through the Great Lakes region to southeastern Manitoba and Minnesota, and south along the Mississippi Basin and Appalachian Mountains to northernmost Georgia and Mississippi.
It is also known as the white pine, northern white pine, or soft pine. This tree is known to the Native American Haudenosaunee (Iroquois nation) as the Tree of Peace. It is also known as the Weymouth pine in the United Kingdom, named after George Weymouth who brought it to England in 1620.
Pinus strobus is found in the Nearctic Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests Biome of eastern North America. It prefers well-drained soil and cool, humid climates, but can also grow in boggy areas and rocky highlands. In mixed forests, this dominant tree towers over all others, including the large broadleaf hardwoods. It provides food and shelter for numerous forest birds, such as the Red Crossbill, and small mammals such as squirrels.
Eastern white pine forests originally covered much of northeastern North America. Only one percent of the old-growth forests remain after the extensive logging operations that existed from the 18th century into the early 20th century.
Old-growth forests, or virgin stands, are protected in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Other protected areas with known virgin forests, as confirmed by the Eastern Native Tree Society, include: Algonquin Provincial Park, Quetico Provincial Park, and Algoma Highlands, Ontario; Huron Mountains, Estivant Pines, Porcupine Mountains State Park, and the Sylvania Wilderness Area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; Hartwick Pines State Park in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan; Menominee Indian Reservation, northeastern Wisconsin; the Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Blackduck, and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota; White Pines State Park, Illinois; Cook Forest State Park, Hearts Content Scenic Area, and Anders Run Natural Area, Pennsylvania; and the Linville Gorge Wilderness, North Carolina.
Small groves or individual specimens of old-growth eastern white pines are found across the range of the species, including: Ordway Pines, Maine; Ice Glen, Massachusetts; and numerous sites in Adirondack Park, New York. Many sites with conspicuously large pines represent advanced old field succession. The tall white pine stands in the Mohawk Trail State Forest and at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Massachusetts are old field examples.
As an introduced species, Pinus strobus is now naturalizing in the Outer Eastern Carpathians subdivision of the Carpathian Mountains, in the Czech Republic and southern Poland. It has spread from specimens planted as ornamental trees in gardens and parks.
Like all members of the white pine group, Pinus subgenus Strobus, the leaves ('needles') are in fascicles (bundles) of five (rarely 3 or 4), with a deciduous sheath. They are flexible, bluish-green, finely serrated, and 5–13 cm (2.0–5.1 in) long, and persist for usually about 18 months.
The cones are slender, 8–16 cm (3.1–6.3 in) long (rarely longer than that) and 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) broad when open, and have scales with a rounded apex and slightly reflexed tip. The seeds are 4–5 mm (0.16–0.20 in) long, with a slender 15–20 mm (0.59–0.79 in) wing, and are wind-dispersed. Cone production peaks every 3 to 5 years.
Mature trees can easily be 200 to 250 years old. Some white pines live over 400 years. A tree growing near Syracuse, New York was dated to 458 years in the late 1980s and trees in both Wisconsin and Michigan have approached 500 years in age.
The eastern white pine, Pinus strobus, has the distinction of being the tallest tree in eastern North America. In natural pre-colonial stands it is reported to have grown to as tall as 70 m (230 ft). We have no means to accurately document the heights of trees from these times, but eastern white pine may have reached this height on rare occasions. Even greater heights have been attributed to the species referenced in popular accounts such as Robert Pike's "Tall Trees, Tough Men", but the accounts are unverifiable.
Total trunk volumes of the largest white pines are around 28 cubic metres (1000 cubic feet) with some past giants reaching a possible 37 or 40 m³ (1300 or 1400 cu ft). Photographic analysis of giant pines suggests volumes closer to 34 m³ (1200 cu ft).
The current tallest eastern white pines reach between 50–57.55 m (160–188.81 ft), as determined by the ENTS—Eastern Native Tree Society. Three locations in the Southeastern United States and one site in the Northeastern United States have been identified with trees reaching 55 m (180 ft) tall.
The southern Appalachians have the most locations and the tallest trees in the present day range of Pinus strobus. One survivor is a specimen known as the "Boogerman Pine" in the Cataloochee Valley, of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 57.55 m (188.8 ft) tall, it is the tallest accurately measured tree in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It has been climbed and measured by tape drop by the ENTS. Before it lost its top in Hurricane Opal in October 1995, the Boogerman Pine was 63 m (207 ft) tall, as determined by Will Blozan and Robert Leverett using ground-based measurement methods.
The tallest eastern white pines in Hartwick Pines State Park of northern Michigan reach 45–48 m (148–157 ft) in height.
In the Northeasern U.S., 8 sites in four states currently have trees over 48 m (157 ft) in height, as confirmed by ENTS. The Cook Forest State Park of Pennsylvania has the largest collection of 45 m (148 ft) eastern white pines in the Northeast, with 110 trees measuring that height or more. The park's "Longfellow Pine" is the tallest eastern white pine in the Northeast currently. It has a height of 55.96 m (183.6 ft), determined by being climbed and measured by tape drop.
The Mohawk Trail State Forest of Massachusetts has 83 trees reaching 45 m (148 ft) in height or more, of which six exceed 48.8 m (160 ft). This is the largest collection of 45 m (148 ft) tall eastern white pines in New England. The "Jake Swamp Tree" located here is 51.54 m (169.1 ft) tall. It is the tallest accurately measured tree of any species within New England. Precise measurements are maintained on this tree by ENTS.
A private property in Claremont, New Hampshire has about sixty white pines in the 45 m (148 ft) height range. Beyond the above locations, sites with 45 m (148 ft) specimens typically have from one to fifteen trees, with most sites having less than ten trees.
Diameters of the larger pines range from 1.0-1.6 m (3–5 ft), which translates to a circumference (girth) range of 3.1–5.0 m (10–16 ft). However, singled-trunk white pines in both the Northeast and Southeast with diameters over 1.45 m (4 ft 9 in) are exceedingly rare. Notable big pine sites of 40 ha (99 acres) or less will often have no more than 2 or 3 trees in the 1.2 to 1.4 m (3 ft 10 in to 4 ft 7 in) diameter class.
Undocumented reports from colonial America reported diameters of virgin white pines of up to 2.4 metres (8 ft) in diameter.
Mortality and disease
Because the eastern white pine tree is somewhat resistant to fire, mature survivors are able to re-seed burned areas. In pure stands mature trees usually have no branches on the lower half of the trunk. The white pine weevil (Pissodes strobi) and White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola), an introduced fungus, can damage or kill these trees.
Mortality from White Pine Blister Rust in mature pine groves was often 50-80% during the early 20th century. The fungus must spend part of its life cycle on alternate hosts of the Ribes genus, the native gooseberry or wild currant. Foresters proposed that if all the alternate host plants were removed that White Pine Blister Rust might be eliminated. A very determined campaign was mounted and all land owners in commercial pine growing regions were encouraged to uproot and kill all native gooseberry and wild currant plants. The ramifications for wildlife and habitat ecology were of less concern at the time than timber industry protection.
Today native wild currants are relatively rare plants in New England, and planting wild currants or wild gooseberries is strongly discouraged, or even illegal in some jurisdictions. As an alternative, new strains of commercial currants have been developed which are highly resistant to White Pine Blister Rust. Possibly due to hard work of the foresters, mortality in White Pines from rust is only about 3% today.
During the age of sailing ships, tall white pines with high quality wood were known as mast pines. Marked by agents of the Crown in colonial times with the broad arrow, they were reserved for the British Royal Navy.
The British built special barge-like vessels which could carry up to 50 pine trunks destined to be ship masts. The wood was often squared immediately after felling to fit in the holds of ships better. A 100’ mast was about 3’x3’ at the butt and 2’x2’ at the top, while a 120’ mast was a giant 4’x4’ at the bottom and 30” at the top. The original masts on the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) were single trees but later they were laminated to better withstand cannon balls.
Marking of large specimens by the Crown was very controversial in the colonies, and their de facto seizure was a point of great contention among the colonists and played a significant role in the events leading to the American Revolution. During the American Revolution it became a great sport for the patriots to see how many of the King’s trees one could cut down and haul off.
An unusual large, lone, white pine was found in colonial times, in coastal South Carolina along the Black River (far south of its normal range), and the king's mark was put upon this particular tree, giving rise to the town of Kingstree.
Eastern white pine is now widely grown in plantation forestry within its native area. The species was imported in 1620 to England by Captain George Weymouth, who planted it for a timber crop, but had little success because of White Pine Blister Rust disease.
Old growth pine in the Americas, of various Pinus species, was a highly desired wood since huge, knot-free boards were the rule rather than the exception. Pine was common and easy to cut, thus many colonial homes used pine for paneling, floors and furniture. Pine was also a favorite tree of loggers since pine logs can still be processed in a lumber mill a year or more after being cut down. In contrast, most hardwood trees such as cherry, maple, oak, and ash must be cut into 1” thick boards immediately after felling or large cracks will develop in the trunk which can render the wood worthless.
Freshly cut eastern white pine is creamy white or a pale straw color but pine wood which has aged many years tends to darken to a deep rich tan. Occasionally one can find light brown pine boards with unusual yellowish-golden or reddish-brown hues. This is the famous "pumpkin pine". It is generally thought that slow growing pines in old-growth forests accumulate colored products in the heartwood, but genetic factors and soil conditions may also play a role in rich color development.
Although eastern white pine was frequently used for flooring in buildings constructed before the U.S. Civil War, the wood is soft and consequently you will find cup-shaped depressions from normal wear and tear on almost every old white pine floor. George Washington realized this would happen and wisely made his Mount Vernon floors out of yellow pine which is much harder.
This wood is also favoured by pattermakers for its easy working.
Foods and medicines
Eastern white pine needles contain five times the amount of Vitamin C (by weight) of lemons and make an excellent tisane. The cambium is edible. It is also a source of resveratrol. Linnaeus noted in the 18th century that cattle and pigs fed pine bark bread grew well, but he personally did not like the taste. Caterpillars of Lusk's Pinemoth (Coloradia luski) have been found to feed only on Pinus strobus.
Pine tar is produced by slowly burning pine roots, branches, or small trunks in a partially smothered flame. Pine tar mixed with beer can be used to remove tapeworms (flat worms) or nematodes (round worms). Pine tar mixed with sulfur is useful to treat dandruff, and marketed in present day products. Pine tar can also be processed to make turpentine.
- Native American traditional uses
The name “Adirondack” is an Iroquois word which means tree-eater and referred to their neighbors (more commonly known as the Algonquians) who collected the inner bark of this tree, Picea rubens, and others during times of winter starvation. The white soft inner bark (cambial layer) was carefully separated from the hard, dark brown bark and dried. When pounded this product can be used as flour or added to stretch other starchy products.
The young staminate cones were stewed by the Ojibwe Indians with meat and were said to be sweet and not pitchy. In addition, the seeds are sweet and nutritious, but not as tasty as those of some of the western nut pines.
Pine resin (sap) has been used by various tribes to waterproof baskets, pails, and boats. The Chippewa also used pine resin to successfully treat infections and even gangrenous wounds. This is because pine resin apparently has a number of quite efficient antimicrobials. Generally a wet pulp from the inner bark was applied to wounds, or pine tar mixed with beeswax or butter and used as a salve was, to prevent infection.
Pinus strobus is cultivated by plant nurseries as an ornamental tree, for planting in gardens and parks. The species is low-maintenance and rapid growing as a specimen tree. With regular shearing it can also be trained as a hedge. Some cultivars are used in bonsai. 
- Pinus strobus Nana Group — ave. 3' tall by 4' wide. MBG: Pinus strobus (Nana Group)
Smaller specimens are popular as live Christmas Trees. Eastern white pines are noted for holding their needles well, even long after being harvested. They also are well suited for people with allergies, as they give little to no aroma. A standard 6-foot (1.8 m) tree takes approximately 6 to 8 years to grow in ideal conditions. Sheared varieties are usually desired because of their stereotypical Christmas Tree conical shape, as naturally grown ones can become too thick for larger ornaments, or grow bushy in texture. The branches of the Eastern White Pine are also widely used in making holiday wreaths and garland because of their soft, feathery needles.
Sprigs of Eastern White Pine were worn as badges as a symbol of Vermont identity during the Vermont Republic and appears in a stained glass window at the Vermont State House, on the Flag of Vermont and the naval ensign of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- USDA: Native distribution map for Pinus strobus, accessed 1.13.2013
- Moore, Gerry; Kershner, Bruce; Craig Tufts; Daniel Mathews; Gil Nelson; Spellenberg, Richard; Thieret, John W.; Terry Purinton; Block, Andrew (2008). National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America. New York: Sterling. p. 77. ISBN 1-4027-3875-7.
- Native Tree Society
- Luthringer, D.J. 2009. Big Trees of Cook Forest. Pennsylvania Forests 100(3):8-12.
- Jake Swamp Tree: 51.54m in August 2008.
- The Jake Swamp Tree was climbed and measured by tape drop in November 1998 and October 2001. It was scheduled to be climbed and measured a third time in November 2008.
- Ling, H. 2003. The Eastern White Pine. Native Plant Society of NJ Newsletter Winter 2003 pp 2–3.
- Lombard K. and J. Bofinger. 1999. White Pine Blister Rust. NH Div. of Forests and Lands.
- Nizalowski, E. 1997. The mystery of the Pumpkin Pine. Newark Valley Historical Society, Newark, NY.
- Sloane, E. 1965. A Reverence for Wood. Balantine Books, NY.
- Erichsen-Brown, C. 1979. Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants. Dover Publications, NY.
- Native American Ethnobotany (University of Michigan - Dearborn), accessed 1.13.2013
- Fernald, M., A. Kinsey, and R. Rollins. 1943. Edible Wild Plants. Harper & Row, NY.
- from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Information Network (NPIN); species account, horticultural information, + photographs . accessed 1.13.2013
- MBG—Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center for Home Gardening: Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) . accessed 1.13.2013
- Christmas tree.org
- Ontario symbols . accessed 1.13.2013
- Netstate.com: Maine State Flower
- Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Pinus strobus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
- Pinetum.org: Cone photo from Arboretum de Villardebelle
- Eastern Native Tree Society - Boogerman Pine photo gallery
- The Monday Garden: The Eastern White Pine
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Pinus strobus|
- Pinus strobus at the Encyclopedia of Life
- USDA Plants Profile for Pinus strobus (eastern white pine)
- EFLORAS—Flora of North America: Pinus strobus treatment
- EFLORAS: P. strobus Distribution map
- Gymnosperm Database: Pinus strobus
- Bioimages.vanderbilt.edu: Pinus strobus images
- Pinus strobus — U.C. Photo gallery