Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a large pine native to eastern North America, occurring from Newfoundland west to Minnesota and southeastern Manitoba, and south along the Appalachian Mountains to the extreme north of Georgia.
It's a member of the white pine group, Pinus subgenus Strobus, and like all members of that group, 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 centimeters (2-5 in) long, and persist for usually about 18 months. The cones are slender, 8-16 centimeters (3-6 in) long (rarely slightly longer) and 4-5 centimeters (1.5-2 in) broad when open, and have scales with a rounded apex and slightly reflexed tip. The seeds are 4-5 millimeters (3/16 in) long, with a slender 15-20 mm (3/4 in) wing, and are wind-dispersed. Cone production peaks every 3 to 5 years. Mature trees can easily be 200 years old and 250 is not unusual. Some white pines live over 400 years. A tree growing near Syracuse, New York was dated to 458 years in the mid-1990s and trees in Wisconsin and Michigan have approached 500 years in age. White pines prefer well-drained soil and cool, humid climates, but also grow in boggy areas and rocky highlands.
Diameters of the larger pines range from 1.0-1.6 m (3-5 ft). However, singled-trunk white pines in both the Northeast and Southeast with diameters over 1.45 m (4.75 ft) are exceedingly rare. Notable big pine sites of 40 ha (100 acres) or less will often have no more than 2 or 3 trees in the 1.2 to 1.4 m (4-4.5 ft) diameter class. A typical large white pine will be in the 3.0 to 3.7 m (10-12 ft) circumference range. Undocumented reports from colonial America reported diameters of virgin white pines of up to 8 feet in diameter (Ling, 2003).
Total trunk volumes of the largest white pines are around 28 cubic meters (1,000 cubic feet) with some past giants reaching a possible 37 or 40 m³ (1,300 or 1,400 cu ft). Photographic analysis of giant pines suggests volumes closer to 34 m³ (1,200 cu ft). Outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, other areas with known remaining virgin stands include Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario; Algoma Highlands, Ontario; Huron Mountains, Michigan (Upper Peninsula); Estivant Pines in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula; Hartwick Pines State Park; Menomonie Indian Reservation, northeastern Wisconsin; Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota; the Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Blackduck, Minnesota; and White Pines State Park, Illinois, Cook Forest State Park, Hearts Conent Natural Area, and Anders Run, all in Pennsylvania; Linville Gorge, North Carolina. Small groves of old-growth pines are found: (1) on numerous sites within New York's Adirondack Park. Old-growth pines are found in the Ordway Pines, Maine; Ice Glen, Massachusetts. Many sites with conspicuously large pines represent advanced old field succession. The tall white pine stands in Mohawk Trail State Forest and on the William Cullen Bryant homestead in Cummington, both in Massachusetts, are examples. Mohawk Trail State Forest includes 83 white pines reaching 45 m (150 ft) in height or more, of which six exceed 48.8 m (160 ft). This is the largest collection of 45 m (150 foot) class white pines in New England. The largest trees in Hartwick Pines State Parks are in the 45–48 m range (150-160ft). Cook Forest State Park has the largest collection of 45 m (150 foot) trees in the Northeast. At present one hundred ten trees have been measured to heights of 45 m (150 feet) or more. A private property in Claremont New Hampshire has about sixty white pines in the 45 m (150 ft) height class. Beyond the three mentioned properties, sites with 45 m (150 foot) trees typically have from one to fifteen, with most of the sites having less than ten.
Because the 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. In mixed forests, this dominant tree towers over all others, including the large hardwoods. It provides food and shelter for forest birds such as the Common Crossbill and small mammals such as squirrels. The white pine weevil (Pissodes strobi) and White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola), an introduced fungus, can damage or kill these trees.
Mortality from Pine Blister 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: gooseberry or wild currant. Foresters reasoned correctly 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 wild gooseberry and wild currant plant (Ling, 2003). Today wild currants are relatively rare plants in New England and planting wild currants or wild gooseberries is strongly discouraged or may even be illegal. As an alternative new strains of commercial currants have been developed which are highly resistant to White Pine Blister Rust. Planting these new strains is a good compromise and will keep you in good standing with your neighbors and the local authorities. Possibly due to hard work of the foresters mortality in white pines from rust is only about 3% today. But alas wild currant and gooseberry pies are items found only in memories (Lombard and Bofinger, 1999).
During the age of sail, the tall trees with their high quality wood were valued for masts, and many trees were marked in colonial times with the broad arrow, reserving them for the British Royal Navy. 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. The wood was often squared immediately after felling to fit in the holds of ships better (Ling, 2003).
The British soon built special barge-like vessels which could carry up to 50 pine trunks destined to be ship masts. 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 US Constitution (Old Ironsides) were single trees but later they were laminated to better withstand cannon balls. 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 (Nizalowski, 1997; Sloane, 1965).
Eastern White Pine is now widely grown in plantation forestry within its native area. Several cultivars have been developed for garden use, many of them dwarf with very slow growth. The species was imported into England by Captain George Weymouth in 1620, who planted it widely for a future timber crop, but the stand had little success because of White Pine Blister Rust disease.
Old growth pine in the Americas 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 (Ling, 2003). Freshly cut 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 virgin forests accumulate colored products in the heartwood but genetic factors and soil conditions may also play a role in rich color development (Nizalowski, 1997).
Although white pine was frequently used for flooring in buildings constructed before the 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 (Ling, 2003).
Eastern White Pine is the provincial tree of Ontario and the state tree of Maine and Michigan and its "pine cone and tassel" is the "state flower" of Maine. 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. It is occasionally known as White Pine, Northern White Pine, or Soft Pine. It is also known as Weymouth Pine, especially in Britain. In addition, this tree is known to the Haudenosaunee Native Americans as the Tree of Great Peace.
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. Caterpillars of Lusk's Pinemoth (Coloradia luski) have been found to feed only on Eastern White Pines.
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 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. Linnaeus noted in the 1700’s that cattle and pigs fed pine bark bread grew well but he personally did not like the taste. 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 good as those of some of the western nut pines (Fernald, 1943).
Pine resin has been used to waterproof baskets, pails and boats and the sap can be processed to make turpentine. In addition, the sap apparently has a number of quite efficient antimicrobials. The Chippewa even used it successfully to treat gangrenous wounds. Generally a wet pulp from the inner bark is applied to the wounds or pine tar can be mixed with beeswax or butter and used as a salve to prevent infection. Pine tar mixed with beer can be used to remove tapeworms (flat worms) or nematodes (round worms) and pine tar mixed with sulfur is useful to treat dandruff. Pine tar is produced by slowly burning pine roots, branches, or small trunks in a partially smothered flame (Erichsen-Brown, 1979).