Eastern white pine

The largest tree found in our part of our county is the Eastern white pine [Pinus strobus]. Eastern white pine is part of the white or soft pine family which is characterized by five soft, flexible needles per bundle and a soft, banana-shaped cone that contains a lot of resin. Group of Pinus strobus trees. Other members of the soft pine family found in North America include sugar pine, Western white pine, foxtail pine, and limber pine. White pine trees are straight, fast growing, long lived trees that can live up to 400-600 years. They like deep, well-drained soils that have a coarse texture; they do not tolerate growing in heavy clay soils, especially in low lying areas. White pine wood is bright, lightweight, strong, easy to work, and rot resistant. However, this tree is susceptible to pine blister rust and pine bark beetles. In most cases, these damaging agents attack trees that are suppressed because they are growing too close together in dense plantations.

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - David Barrow

White pine trees were a major part of the pre-colonial “virgin” forests found throughout the East. Extensive deforestation removed many of these large pines; destructive forest fires which easily kill this thin-barked tree greatly reduced its dominance throughout its range.

Reforestation efforts and the suppression of forest fires has resulted in a rebound of this majestic tree. White pine is also regenerating from native seed sources; in Frederick County, mountainous areas like “Piney Mountain,” just west of Thurmont, contain a lot of natural white pine regeneration. A tree cut and measured in Pennsylvania during 1899 measured 12-feet in diameter, 200 feet tall, and was nearly 700 years old. The current big tree record holder is the Boogerman Pine found in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. This tree was 207 feet tall until the top was destroyed by Hurricane Opal in 1995. This gargantuan pine now stands 189 feet tall.

The Eastern white pine is one of the most common evergreen trees found in Frederick County, planted widely in reforestation projects and landscapes for a number of years. In the late 1950s to the 1970s, the Maryland Forest Service, along with the Soil Conservation Service, worked with farmers to reforest steep and eroded sections of their property with white and Scotch pine plantations. The original idea was that the Scotch pine would be harvested for Christmas trees in 5-10 years to free up the larger growing and longer lived white pine. Since that time, white pine has been one of the most popular trees used in reforestation projects. However, the large build up of the local deer herd over the last 20 years has impacted white pine planting, because a young pine seedling is quickly devoured by hungry deer during the winter months. These days, less preferred evergreens like pitch pine or eastern red cedar are being employed instead of the white pine where large deer herds would be anticipated.

White pine was a prized tree by the European colonists for its large size and easy workability. The British government soon realized that white pine lumber made the best sailing ships, and that the large straight-growing trees made ideal ship masts. White pine was extensively used in framing, planking, and masts, and the resins and pitch were utilized for preserving and waterproofing the vessels.

It soon became apparent to the British that white pine was so important for shipbuilding, that in 1691, King George I decreed that the British had the right to designate certain large white pine with the King’s Broad Arrow and that these trees could only be harvested for and used by the British Royal Navy. This type of taking activity was one of the many reasons that colonists finally rebelled against Great Britain and declared their independence.

The King’s Broad Arrow is still evident on living white pine trees to this day.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 6/5/2016