Eastern White Pine

Pinus strobus

White pine, the largest tree on the East Coast, remained unrivaled as timber tree for 300 years. Extensive forests of trees 150 ft tall astounded the first settlers. Those abundant 400-year-old pines were turned into fortunes of the wealthiest Massachusetts families. White pine, along with fish and fur, was the only export of early New England. Tall, straight, and lightweight, white pine was ideal for sailing ship masts. As they did not have a tree of such grandeur in Europe, the British had to put together two Scots pines ("Riga firs") for each tall mast. When the news about the discovered "Weymouth pine" arrived during the reign of King William and Mary, the largest trees, stamped with the "King's Broad Arrow," were immediately reserved for the British Navy. The decree on white pine was sabotaged, so that the British Crown even attempted a spy system to protect the trees. The American Revolution broke out to the large extent due to the controversy about white pine, whose image embellished the first flag of the revolutionary forces. Only one percent of the old-growth forests remain after the extensive logging operations of the 18th-early 20th century.

Differently from pitch pine, white pine does not withstand the fire. Presence of old white pines tells us that an area must have escaped the large fires of the 20th century. The soft, thin, and flexible blue-green needles of this pine are in clusters of 5. On young growth, the bark is thin, smooth, greenish-brown; on older trees, it becomes deeply fissured and dark. Cones ripen in two years. Mature ones are to 8" long. As in other pines, seeds are winged, wind-dispersed. Cone production peaks every 3-5 years. Deer, gray and red squirrels, mice, and 16 species of songbirds have been known as white pine seed consumers. Native Americans dried the soft inner bark to make flour, stewed young cones, and ate the nutritious seeds. Pine resin (sap) was used by tribes to treat infections and also to waterproof baskets, pails, and boats.

See all photos for this species at salicicola.com

Overwintering first-year cones. March 22

Second-year cones dispersing seeds. September 22

Evergreen conifers also have their needle-dropping season when they shed a part of their foliage. September 29, Myles Standish SF

The lifespan of needles is 2-3 years. A white pine that has recently dropped old needles. Myles Standish SF, October 12.