Nationwide the pines are probably the most important timber tree group, especially in the West and South where they are the predominant tree species. In our area pines are not plentiful, but are still important for providing lumber, wildlife habitat, visually pleasing views, and erosion control. The native pines that grow in our area include Shortleaf, Virginia, Pitch, and White Pine. Though not a local native, Loblolly Pine has been widely planted and does well in our area.
Everybody knows a pine tree when they see it, but many can’t tell them apart. The easiest way is to look at the needles. They always grow in bundles, and by counting how many needles occur in each bundle (science guys call it a fascicle), you can determine the species. Here’s how you do it: Shortleaf has needles are 3-4 inches long and occur in bundles of mostly 2, but with an occasional 3 bundle. Virginia Pine has needles 2-3 inches long in bundles of 2. Virginia pine needles tend to be twisted. Pitch Pine has needles around 4-6 inches long in bundles of 3. White Pine has needles 3-5 inches long in bundles of 5. Loblolly Pine has needles over 6 inches long in bundles of 3. If the pine you’re trying to identify is too tall to see the needles, look on the ground under the tree. The needle bundles usually stay together and you can count them there.
Most of our pines tend to grow on dry sites, such as south and west facing slopes, and ridge tops. Virginia Pine (also called old field pine) is very common on abandoned farmland. It is a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to move into disturbed areas.
Besides being used by humans for paper, lumber, and hundreds of other products, wildlife utilizes pine trees for food and shelter. Several kinds of songbirds use pine seed as food, including dove, turkey, and quail. Rabbits, deer, and fox squirrel eat the seed as well as the bark and foliage. Because pines are evergreen, they provide important year round shelter and cover for wildlife, especially for protection from cold winter wind and snow, referred to as thermal shelter.
If you are interested in growing trees either in your yard or on several acres, pines can be valuable both visually and financially. They can grow rapidly and produce timber in less time than most hardwoods. For more information on growing pine trees contact your local forestry office.