Table Mountain Pine
If you happen to be hiking on a rocky, exposed slope and you see smallish pine trees with cones that look like it would hurt if they fell on your head you might be looking at a Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens). Table mountain pine is a small round- to irregular shaped pine tree that has very stout branches that can be a long as the tree is tall. Table Mountain pine has thick, platy bark that is grayish brown to black. The needles of this tree range from yellow to green; they are twisted, and borne into groups of two. One of the most characteristic features of this tree are the dense, green - yellow cones that have a large, hooked spine on them; and, they do, in fact, hurt if they hit you when they fall.
The cones of this tree are serotinous—they can withstand a lot of heat and will open up and spread the seed following a forest fire. The pine seed will stay viable for up to ten years and germinate when conditions are favorable. Table mountain pine is very hardy, preferring to grow on dry, rocky sites that are inhospitable to most other trees. The thick bark and serotinous cones enable them to withstand moderate forest fires, so that this tree is considered to be a fire-dependent species.
Table mountain pines need plenty of sun, and do not grow well in a dense forest community. For this reason, the pine is often found growing by itself or in small colonies on rocky, exposed sites that have a history of forest fires. The Table Mountain pine has a fairly small range, growing predominately in the Appalachian Mountain chain from Georgia up to Pennsylvania. This tree was first identified in 1794 on Table Rock Mountain, North Carolina, from where it got its name. Despite its small size, Table Mountain pine can live a long time with a lifespan of 300 years. Red squirrels are particularly fond of the pine seeds, and will chew through the thick cones to obtain this delicacy. There are a number of Table Mountain pine trees growing around the High Knob area of Gambrill State Park. Just make sure you are wearing a hard hat if you are up there on a windy day.
Article by FCFCDB
Nature Note for 4/19/20