Possibly the most important tree of eastern North America, the eastern white pine tree is unparalleled in its impressiveness. Planting this tree in any space will bring beauty, and sprout conversations of old-growth groves.
They are resistant to the windbreak, resistant to forest fires, and are the tallest tree in all of America and Canada. A tree species that is a deciduous conifer, and is the official state tree of 3 states! Head on over to 101 Types of Trees if you’re curious about what other trees there are around the world.
Eastern white pines are an absolutely staple hardwood tree in North America. Once the most popular tree of the logging industry, luckily it still prevails over much of central and eastern America. This tree is a deciduous conifer, which we’ll expand on in just a minute.
This tree goes by many names. It was named “Tree of Peace” by the Haudenosaunee First Nations people. It is named as the Weymouth pine in the United Kingdom, named after Captain George Weymouth who brought these pine seeds from Maine to England in 1605.
This tree is so important that it is the state tree of Maine and Michigan, the white pine flower is the state flower of Maine, and it is the provincial tree of Ontario.
It is the largest pine tree native to North America, and it is said that before they were logged in the early 18th century, there were some that were over 70 meters in height. Not only that, they live a very long time. They will regularly live to be 200-250 years old, but there are some known to be well over 500.
Are Eastern White Pine Trees Coniferous or Deciduous?
It is a common misconception to think that coniferous is the opposite of deciduous when this is not the case. Evergreen is the opposite of deciduous. Evergreen is a tree that never loses its foliage, compared to deciduous trees that lose their foliage seasonally.
Most deciduous trees have leafy foliage, whereas evergreen trees usually have coniferous foliage, which is made up of needles and cones. Eastern white pine trees like in the crux of these categories, as a deciduous conifer.
This means that the tree has needles and cones, but they will drop seasonally as colder months approach. However, like most other deciduous trees, these needles will stay on far longer in the year than most leaves will.
What do Eastern White Pine Trees Look Like?
Eastern white pine trees have shallow spreading roots. This is because they usually grow in more moist regions, where they don’t need to grow deep into the earth to access moisture reserves.
These roots are wide-spreading and never usually grow deeper than 0.9 meters into the soil. If the tree is growing in an area that has sandy dry soil, it will grow slightly deeper.
Eastern white pines are known as being absolutely monstrous. They are truly massive. They are considered as being one of the tallest trees in North America. Natural, pre-colonial stands were said to have grown to be over 70 meters tall. That’s over double the height of the average hardwood tree.
Nowadays, since not many old-growth groves remain, mature trees will usually reach heights of up to 40 meters. Their trunk width is just as impressive as their height. Most trees stay around 28 meters in diameter, whereas there are some that can reach 40 meters.
These trees are very fast growing (which was a quality that made them such a valued lumber tree) and will grow a minimum of 1 meter annually. This is the case until they are at the age of 45 when their growth will slow.
Branches will usually start their growth about halfway up the trunk. Horizontal branches have spaced an average of 18 inches upwards and grow in the pattern of spokes on a wagon wheel. Lower branches are thicker than the upper branches.
The bark of a young tree is light-gray/brown and is shallowly fissured with short ridges and delicate scales. The bark of older trees will be a darker gray/brown color with deeper fissures and higher ridges.
Eastern white pines are probably the most recognizable for their needles. They grow in bundles of 5 fascicles. The pine needles themselves are flexible, a blue-green color, are usually 2-5 inches long, and are finely serrated.
These fascicle sheaths persist for about 18 months, which is usually from the spring of one season until the autumn of the next one, where they will abscise (drop).
How do Eastern White Pine Trees Reproduce?
Eastern white pines are monoecious, meaning that they possess both male flowers and female flowers. They are also capable of self-pollination, meaning that they don’t need insect pollinators to aid in fertilization.
However, this does mean that the seeds produced will be either stunted or malformed. This is what happens when plant species reproduce from the same DNA. The same weaknesses and abnormalities are not removed from the family line.
Male flowers are borne as yellow cylindrical cone-like flowers that are found in clusters near the tips of the branches. Female flowers are similarly shaped but are green with a red tinge. These are found at the ends of branches in clusters as well. The flower will usually develop in May.
After self-pollination, the tree will produce fruit in the form of seed cones. These seed cones are slender, being 3-7 inches long and never more than 2 inches wide when opened. The cones are covered with scales around a rounded apex. They are slightly flexible at the tip.
Male and female cones are produced ever 3-5 years, and from the openings of the scale will emerge little winged seedlings that are wind-dispersed. A white pine seedling will often be the first present after a forest fire.
Eastern white pines are early bloomers and will start developing flowers after only about 5-10 years. This is remarkable for such a long-living tree. After about 80 years their seed production will start to slow.
Where do Eastern White Pines Grow?
The eastern white pine grows in near-arctic-temperate-broadleaf and mixed-forests biome. This spans through the USDA growing zone 3 through 8. They once covered much of northern and central North America, but have been largely tapered down thanks to over-logging in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Only 1% of the old-growth eastern white pines remain.
These trees grow naturally starting in Canada in Newfoundland, the Great Lakes regions, and southeastern Manitoba. In America, they grow in Minnesota, the southern Appalachian mountains, and northern Georgia. They are incredibly rare at high elevations.
The eastern white pine is a very dominant tree in hardwood forests, even more so than large broadleaf hardwoods. This is because of their resilience to fire damage, and ability to withstand extreme conditions.
What are the Growing Conditions of the Eastern White Pine Tree?
The ideal soil type for the eastern white pine is well-drained sandy soil. These are usually found in boggy areas, or in rocky highlands. They cannot tolerate clay soil or soil compaction.
Though the tree is drought resistant, it will not thrive if it exists in a region that has less than 30 inches of precipitation in a year. This is why there aren’t any natural groves that have made it past the midwestern regions of the United States.
Eastern white pines are sun-loving trees. They prefer to have full sun exposure all day, every day, though they can tolerate very partial shade.
What are the Damaging Agents of the Eastern White Pine?
White Pine Weevil (pissodes strobi)
The white pine weevil’s damage comes from the larvae of the insect. They are bred underneath the bark of the eastern white pine and live and feed in the most vulnerable places of the tree. Not only do they damage the heartwood, but they also make the tree vulnerable to further fungal infection.
White Pine Blister Rust (cronartium ribicola)
The white pine blister ruse was a fungus that originally found its host in native gooseberry and wild currant plants, and was then passed on to the eastern white pine.
For a long time, it was proposed that all gooseberry and currant plants would be removed in an effort to eradicate the blister rust, without proper acknowledgment of what that removal would do to wildlife and habitat ecology. The timber industry mattered more at that time.
There are still certain jurisdictions that deem it as being illegal to plant wild currants or wild gooseberries, because the fungus is so ruthless. It is said that in the early 20th century, 50-80% of eastern white pine trees perished from this infection.
Another thing responsible for white pine decline is the caliciopsis canker is a fungal pathogen that produces cankers in trees. A canker is basically the fruiting body of the fungus, and acts as an open wound which makes the tree more susceptible to other infections.
How is Eastern White Pines Used?
It is no secret that pine wood is highly valued, especially eastern white pine wood. Henry David Thoreau even named it “there is no finer tree”. A quarter-million eastern white pine trees were harvested and sent to lumber yards annually in the 19th century.
The wood has a soft texture, is easily worked, and takes paint and stain like no other wood. The wood was a popular choice for ship and wagon building. Nowadays it is valued as a knot-free wood that is easy to cut. It is used for paneling flooring and furniture.
Smaller specimens of eastern white pines are also grown as groves for Christmas tree commercial uses. They have a lovely scent, hold their needles for longer, and grow extremely quickly.
These trees are also garden cultivars for their fast growth and ability to form hedges, as well as in the art of bonsai making.
The twigs of the eastern white pine tree remarkably exceed the amount of vitamin C found in lemons and oranges. The twigs and bark are often brewed as herbal tea.
The cambium portion of the inner bark is edible and is a very valued source of resveratrol. Resveratrol is basically a plant compound that is a highly potent antioxidant, which helps the physical and internal signs of aging.
There is also an interesting product called pine tar that is made by slowly burning the branches and roots of the tree. When mixed with beer, pine tar can be ingested to removed tapeworms. When mixed with sulfur, pine tar can be used topically to help treat dandruff.
First Nations Traditions
For the Iroquois, Adirondack means “tree-eater”, which is a reference to the eating of the cambium layer of the eastern white pine tree, which was often eaten in winter when other food was scarce.
The cambium layer can also be dried and ground and used as flour or as another source of starch.
The Chippewa people would also use eastern white pine sap to help treat infections. And if all of that wasn’t cool enough, the sap can also be used to help make baskets, pails, and boats waterproof.
Many forest birds and small mammals use the eastern white pine as winter shelter, specifically the red crossbill and various squirrel species.
Seeds and twigs are eaten by mourning doves and snowshoe hares in the harsh winter months, and the caterpillars of the Lusk pine moth (coloradia luski) forage on only the foliage of this tree.
Are eastern white pine tree deer resistant?
The eastern white pine actually has winter buds that are extremely tasty for deer and is also an important source of food for them in the winter months.
How fast do eastern white pine trees grow?
Eastern white pines are incredibly fast-growing trees and will grow a minimum of 1 meter a year for the first 30 years of their life. Their growth will slow after that.
How long do eastern white pine trees live?
Eastern white pines are long-lived trees. Most trees will live to be between 200 and 250 years old, whereas there are some known trees that are over 600 years old!
How tall do eastern white pine trees get?
Before extreme logging, there were groves of eastern white pine that exceeded heights of 70 meters. Nowadays, since these trees are usually logged before they can become completely grown, they will be around 34-40 meters tall.
When should I prune an eastern white pine tree?
Pruning trees is a tricky subject. Trees do not need help from humans to grow properly, and pruning is only for the purpose of the preference of the landowner.
If one was to prune a tree, it should never been done in the winter months as it will continuously bleed sap and create a huge mess. Additionally, branches that appear as being sickly or growing awkwardly can be trimmed right at the point where the branch meets the trunk.
Why is the eastern white pine Michigan’s state tree?
Michigan claims to be the home of the legendary Paul Bunyan, and we all know that he was a logger. Eastern white pine was the focal point of the logging industry in Michigan from the 1860s-1890s and led the country in tree logging.
How many branches does the eastern white pine have?
Eastern white pines will vary in branch numbers depending on the size of the tree. They will start their growth about halfway up the trunk and will grow like spokes on a wheel every 18 inches.
How do you tell the difference between a western white pine and an eastern white pine?
The easiest way to tell the difference between a western white pine and an eastern white pine is through the color of their wood. Western pines have white sapwood and light red/brown heartwood that darkens when it is exposed to the sun. Eastern pines have white sapwood and yellowish heartwood.
How deep are the roots of the eastern white pine tree?
Roots of the eastern white pine tree grow quite shallow in the soil. They won’t grow much deeper than 0.9 meters into the soil but will grow slightly deeper if they’re growing in dry soil.
Are eastern white pines old-growth trees?
Yes. Eastern white pines are long-living trees, and there are some that are over 600 years old. However, only 1% of the eastern white pine old-growth forest remains, as it was heavily logged throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th, centuries.
Is the eastern white pine an evergreen tree?
Eastern white pines are deciduous trees. It is a common misconception that they are evergreen because they have conifer foliage, but they are deciduous conifers.