Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pinus strobus - Eastern White Pine

In our neighborhood, there are a ton of white pines. The state has, for years, given them out for planting and apparently, lots of people around here took advantage of the offer. With all of the deer, they can be hard to get started since the deer find them so tasty, but once they get tall enough for the deer not to eat them, they are pretty trouble free. Their one drawback, as far as I can tell, is that the branches are quite brittle and so will snap off sometimes in a bad ice storm.
In colonial times, White Pines were very common in the Northeast U.S. The British severely depleted their numbers because they were in great demand as ship's masts because they were so straight. They were also used for painted furniture.

Medicinally, White Pine tar was used in cough syrups. Other 'fun facts' - Pine needles have 5 times the vitamin C as lemons. The inner bark can be dried and powdered and added to the flour when making bread. The seeds from the cones can be eaten just like the western nut pine seeds, though some say they aren't as good. (with the squirrels around here, it's not likely that I'll ever have the chance to find out since they find cones of all sorts quite attractive). Pine sap has been used to waterproof baskets, buckets and boats and can be make into turpentine. The sap is also antimicrobial and can be mixed with beeswax to make a salve to help prevent infections in wounds. Pine tar mixed with sulfur has been used to treat dandruff. Such a useful tree, though I think I'll just enjoy looking at ours.

As with most plants, people weren't content to enjoy the lovely green pine, but worked on finding the odd branch here and there to use for grafting to create new plants. Pinus strobus has a number of these.

This one is Pinus strobus 'Aurea'. No fancy names, just an acknowledgment of the yellow colored needles. The color is most intense in the winter, fading quite a bit towards green by summer.

And then there is Pinus strobus 'Tortuosa', the curly needled version. Everyone seems to like this one. We were told when we got it that it wouldn't get very tall. Wrong! Once it got to about 25 feet we took the top out. It is now a lovely, round (and rather large) pine bush. I wouldn't have minded it taller, but it was throwing way too much shade on a number of things.

So, not an unusual or, at least in its plain green form, an odd or fancy tree, but one of the basics that is easy to grow and thrives on a variety of soils and in a variety of zones from quite cold to pretty warm.


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