Southwestern White Pine–Food for Bears?

Pinecones aren’t always helpful in identification, especially when they are missing or misplaced.

I put off a post about the southwestern white pine, Pinus strobiformis, until after Christmas because I figured it wouldn’t be of much use as a holiday tree. To my surprise, a site from Kansas identified it as such. The Covered Bridge Ranch in Montrose, Colorado also included it on a chart of its trees for sale for holiday decoration.

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The needles of a southwestern white pine

This variety of conifer has five needles growing per fascicle and each leaf may grow up to four inches in length.

Pinus strobiformis is found in the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the southwest/south central counties of Colorado (Ackerman, Jennifer, Flora of Colorado) where it may grow up to 9000 feet in elevation. Like many other trees it has other common names such as pino enamo, border pine, and Mexican pine (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 5th edition.)

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The branches and bark of the southwestern white pine

According to the US Forest Service, although used for window frames and some cabinetry, this species is not valuable as lumber due to its tendency toward crooked growth. It is sometimes grown for its ornamental value, and some dwarf versions are available.

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A southwestern white pine

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists this species as having large seeds, which have served as food for both wildlife and southwestern tribes. At least one paper reports the seeds are a food for black bears. Practical Plants likens the seeds to piñon nuts with a harder shell. This website also mentions a vanilla flavoring agent from the resin. Like most other pines, the resins and other parts of the plant have been used as disinfectants and medicinally for many conditions.

The Gymnosperm Database lists the largest tree in the US as being in the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico. This tree has a circumference of nearly five feet, is a bit over 111 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 62 feet. The oldest tree is also in New Mexico but is part of the San Mateo mountains. In 2006 it was said to be 599 years old. The tallest specimen, though, is in the San Juan Forest of Colorado. In 2014 it was measured as being nearly 128 feet tall.

To find C173 Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis) in Fort Collins City Park, start near the corner of Mulberry Street and Sheldon Drive. This specimen is on the east side of the road, behind a larger conifer, more or less across from the outhouse on the W side of the road.

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Is this the cone of the southwestern white pine?

Note on pinecones. It seems like conifer cones would be a useful way to help identify what kind of tree you are looking at. I found this specimen under the pine tree, but does it actually belong to this tree? It was the only cone. Between this tree and the conifer nearer to the road were strewn a number of other, slightly different cones. Descriptions of the white pine cone vary. How and where the cone grows on the tree can be of use in identification. Alas, no cones were visible on this tree at the time of viewing, eliminating the direction of growth as a helpful indicator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Invasive Christmas Tree–the Scotch Pine

A Scotch Pine has never been used as the Capitol Christmas tree.

Every list of tree species used as Christmas trees seems to include the Scotch or Scots Pine, latin name Pinus sylvestris. At least one list considers it the most popular tree in the States, while others list it as the most popular pine but 8th most popular conifer overall. The National Christmas Tree Association does say it is the most popular tree for the holiday season.

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The distinctive two needle packets of the Scotch pine.

The Scots pine is the most widely distributed pine in the world, with its range stretching across Europe and into Asia, or as many sources say, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Although not often used as lumber in the US, that is a common use throughout Europe.

The species was introduced into North America in the 17th century.  It has naturalized throughout most of Canada and the northeast United States. In fact, it has been so successful in some areas, it is considered invasive. Wisconsin considers it such but currently does not regulate it. The Ontario Parks blog has a headline “Don’t Deck the Halls with Scots Pine for Christmas”.

According to the gymnosperm website, the use of this variety of pine as a Christmas tree is mostly a custom in the United States. This same site says the Scots pine is the second most common conifer world-wide after the common juniper. To sell as a Christmas tree, the Scots pine is grown on tree farms for six to eight years before reaching a height of 7-8 feet. The trees normally last for three or four weeks and even when not watered, they usually don’t drop their needles. More than one source says this conifer accounts for 10% of Christmas tree sales. Although these are popular in the home, a Scotch pine has never been used as the Capitol Christmas tree.

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The Scots pine in City Park

While parts of the tree are edible and can be ground down to a meal to add to oatmeal or flour, it is considered a food of last resort. Like many other plants, it has a long list of conditions for which it is reputed to have a medicinal effect, including respiratory problems. Not surprisingly, the leaves have been used as an antiseptic.

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Cone from a Scotch Pine

The Scots pine is the national tree of Scotland. Although many will tell of the days when Scotland was covered by the Caledonian forest, made up of Pinus sylvestris, this version is disputed by the Scottish historian Christopher Smout. Still, as the only native pine in the UK, it has many uses, including telephone poles, source of turpentine, and fencing. A large stand of the pines was used for WWII commando training as well as in a Harry Potter movie. This group of Scots Pine has recently been saved by the Scottish Land Trust and local residents, hoping to use it as a tourist site. There are about 77 remnants of the Caledonian forest, with about nine of them easily accessible.

Many sources say these trees can live to 700 years. The oldest known tree is in Finland and dates back 764 years. The tallest tree is about half the height of an average Redwood.

To find (E55) Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) on the Fort Collins City Park self-guided tour, head to the intersection of Bryan and Oak Streets. The large conifer is on the east side of the ditch, directly behind the speed limit sign. See the photo above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern White Pines:Suitable for Christmas or Rebellion?

What type of tree will you select for your Christmas tree this year?

What kind of tree do you think of when someone says natural Christmas tree? I suspect many of us think of a pine tree. Oddly, the most common trees used aren’t pines but firs and spruces. Pines do make the list of common or best trees, but only a few species are routinely used. In England the lodgepole pine is mentioned as a choice! In the U.S. two or three species are mentioned, probably dependent on what part of the country you live in.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Eastern White Pine

Eastern White Pines (Pinus storbus) are native to North America and found from Minnesota south to Arkansas and east. This is the state tree of both Maine and Michigan. Considered the tallest native pine in the east, modern day trees are dwarfed by other trees in the genus, such as the Ponderosa and sugar pine. The single largest specimen,  which can be found in Maine, is 132′ tall and has a circumference of 229 inches. The normal life expectancy of this species is about 200 years, although a fossilized log found in Ontario included 407 rings.

Most of the virgin forests have been logged, although the species is planted for reforestation. White pine timber has been used to build boats, furniture, and buildings. In the 1700s the trees were harvested to provide masts for the Royal Navy, thus leading to the Pine Tree Riot of 1772.

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Trunk of an Eastern White Pine

Beyond their use as building materials and firewood, the white pine provided resin in the building of canoes. The sap was used as an antiseptic and chemicals found in white pine may still be used as ingredients in anti congestion medications. The Healing Power of Plants website also includes the information that a component chemical in white pines may be useful in combating LDL cholesterol. At least one site mentions the seeds were used to cure meats, and the cambium could be ground into a flour. This was used by both early settlers and Native American populations. Early blackboards were often made of white pine painted black.

The Eastern white pine is usually included on lists of trees sold for Christmas. One possible advantage to its use is it tends to hold onto its needles longer than other conifers.

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Needles on an Eastern White Pine showing the clusters of five

They also have little aroma, which makes them  a good choice for those who have sensitivities. But they are very full, bushy trees and their branches cannot accommodate heavy ornaments.

A white pine has only been used as the Capitol Christmas tree, also known as the People’s tree, twice in the fifty-four year history of the program. In both 1968 and 69 PARTs of an Eastern white pine were used. Although still listed as being a species used as a Christmas tree, even in Michigan it seems to have fallen out of favor. A recent study rated it #7 in acreage planted.

To find this (164) specimen, head to the southwest corner of City Park and Mulberry. It should be easy to find between the two handicapped parking signs  seen in the photo above.