White Pine

2016 April 2

It was a nice, sunny day on March 12, 2016, so I strapped on my snowshoes and went out to take pictures of trees. This first one is one of several white pines (Pinus strobus) that we have growing around the place. None of ours are particulary large, because up until about 50 years ago our property was mostly potato fields, but white pines can get really huge given sufficient time. They are apparently the tallest native tree in eastern North America, and it is claimed that some of the original old-growth White Pines were over 200 feet tall.


These are native to the state, and like our cool, moist climate. And, in fact, White Pine is the Michigan state tree. The needles are long and more flexible than a lot of other pines, to the point that Sam and Rosie call them “soft pines” (and like to pet the needles).


The needles are distinctive in that they grow in clumps of 5, unlike other pine trees in this area that typically have 2-needle clumps.


They have smooth, gray bark, which also looks a lot different from other pines that we see.


White Pine is subject to “white pine blister rust”, a fungal disease that kills the tree. The disease came over from Eurasia around 1900, and did a lot of damage to the lumber industry (and was probably responsible for a lot of tree plantations cultivating trees other than white pine). It turns out to be possible to reduce the incidence of the disease because it has to alternate between two hosts – the white pine, and currant/gooseberry. So, in the interests of preserving the white pine, the wild currants and gooseberries were rooted out and largely eliminated throughout most of the range of the white pine. Even now, there are restrictions on importing those plants, and nursery catalogs still note that they either will not sell currants or gooseberries to addresses in Michigan, or ask that they not be planted within several hundred feet of a white pine tree.[1]

[1] This is something that kind of irks me about a lot of nursery catalogs; they will tell you that shipments of certain plants are banned to particular states, but they don’t then say why. It would be nice to know whether the plant itself is banned because it is invasive (which means that any that one sees should be destroyed and/or reported), or whether it could potentially carry in a disease (in which case the ones that are growing on their own in the state are probably fine).

One Response
  1. Carole permalink
    April 2, 2016

    We don’t have white pine in the southeast. Our most predominant tree was long-leaf pine. The last old-growth pine in our area was harvested in 1939. In the southeast 90 million acres of long-leaf were cut decimating habitat for many plants and animals. They were mostly replaced with slash pine as a cash crop which is fast growing. Would love to jump in a time machine and see this place before the Europeans came.

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