White Pine

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Perhaps the best of the ornamental pines is the Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), a large soft wooded, fine needled pine native to eastern North America. Since colonial times the White Pine’s soft, creamy brown to tan heartwood has provided the classic wood for homes and furniture. This plant is fairly tolerant to adverse environmental conditions, however it is susceptible to ice storm damage, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and salt sea spray.

Eastern white pines have soft, flexible needles, 3 to 5 inches long, 5 to a bundle. Of a medium texture, these thin, straight needles have a characteristic aromatic pine scent. They develop at the ends of twigs, rather than uniformly along their length. They are bluish-green year round--lighter in the spring, then bright green over the summer and fall, yellowing somewhat in the winter. They have pale stripes on their undersides. Drooping gently from their twigs, they are more graceful than the stiff needles of most other conifers. The needles are continually shed and replaced in three-year cycles, so that pines appear to be “evergreen”. So don’t think your pine tree is dying because it is shedding its needles. As they mature, their foliage density and pyramidal shape evolve to flat-topped, more open growth.

As conifers, White Pines bear cones, which are actually male and female flowers borne separately in clusters. They take two years to mature. The scales are green and smooth, overlapping like shingles on a roof when the cones are unripe. Female cones are pinkish-purple, about 2/5 of an inch long; males are yellowish-green. Both bloom in early June until mid-July. Narrow and 5 to 6 inches long when mature, they produce seeds that have a small wing at one end. These seeds provide abundant food for birds and small mammals such as squirrels.

White Pines make nice Christmas trees. As Christmas trees, sheared trees are preferred, although some people feel shearing results in trees too dense for larger Christmas tree ornaments. Needle retention is good to excellent. Young White Pine has very little aroma, but, conversely, is reported to result in fewer allergic reactions than do some of the more aromatic species. To produce a 6-foot tree requires 6-8 years on good sites.

White Pine Choices
Because of their many virtues among the large number of cultivars, White Pines are assets to residential landscapes. However, they sometimes become too large for the scale of the typical yard. A dwarf version of white pine has been developed in response to this problem. Nana is a dwarf at 3 to 7 feet tall with a mounded growth habit. Brevifolia Elf is a dwarf plant that, when mature, will resemble a miniature, 20-foot tall white pine.

Some interesting other white pine have different colors: The new growth on Alba is white, becoming bluish-green with maturity. Bergman's Variegated has leaves with yellow variegation. Glauca has bluish-green needles. Hillside Winter Gold has summer foliage that is yellowish-green becoming yellow in winter. Louie has foliage that is golden and the color persists all year. White Mountain has a vigorous form with silvery blue foliage. The foliage may be susceptible to damage from severe winters and air pollution.

Some cultivars have different habits and sizes: Fastigiata has a rapid growing columnar form that will be 45 feet tall but only 15 feet wide. Blue Shag is a globe-shaped dwarf with blue foliage. It should be grown in full sun. Coney Island is a dwarf with a rounded habit and heavy cone production. Torulosa is an unusual cultivar with twisted branches and needles plus an open growth habit.

Some cultivars come in different forms: Pendula is a weeping type with gracefully arching branches. On Contorta (Torulosa) the needles, stems and branches are twisted and contorted. The tree is almost columnar when young but becomes broader when mature.

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