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 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.
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.
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.