Not all trees stand tall. In the west section of the Park is a somewhat sad looking evergreen conifer (cone bearing) tree, but in December it becomes festive when decorated with lights as the Park's holiday tree. The Wikipedia entry is here.
The pitch pine is a small-to-medium sized tree (6-30 meters) which grows irregularly. This pine occasionally hybridizes with other pine species such as loblolly pine (P. taeda), shortleaf pine (P. echinata), and pond pine (P. serotina); the last is treated as a subspecies of pitch pine by some botanists.
Pitch pine in west triangle in June
Pitch pine factoids:
It is the primary tree of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
It has an irregular shape with twisted branches.
The needles are in bundles of three.
The cones are covered with rigid spikes. The species name "rigida" refers to these spikes.
It can live up to 200 years.
The word "pitch" in pitch pine refers to the resin, or sap-like material, of the tree. Native American tribes used this pitch medicinally.
This is the tree that is festooned with winter holiday lights by Stan and Grace.
A second Pitch Pine in the southern part of the east triangle, loaded with cones. July photo
A pitch pine cone with its sharp rigid spikes.
Thomas Jefferson, the guy on the nickel and arguably our most botanically-inclined president, noted the distribution of pitch pine and its absence from eastern Virginia.
Photo from the pitch pine in the east triangle on April 16
The lighter clusters of male cones on the tips of the branches are easily seen as well as the old female cones. If you flick the mature male cones with your finger you will see a cloud of pollen released.
Botany 101 Bonus
This tree is a good example of an evergreen, meaning that the needles, or leaves, stay attached all year, and do not fall off in autumn like deciduous trees. This tree also has cones on it. Not all evergreens are conifers: azaleas and hollies do not shed their leaves and stay green all winter, but don't bear cones. Likewise, not all conifers are evergreen: the bald cypress, larch, and dawn redwood all bear cones but loose their leaves in the fall. These three are examples of deciduous conifers. One more caveat: Not all cones are "pine cones," since cedars, larches, firs, and other taxonomic groups are not pines but produce cones.
These trees are just across the fence in the northeast triangle.
The dawn redwood on the left is a deciduous conifer.
The three hollies on the right are evergreen flowering non-conifers.
The same dawn redwood as in the photo above, but in March, awaiting its new needles.
Evergreen trees do shed some of their needles. What makes them evergreen is that their needles persist more than one year before falling.
This is the ground under the black pine in the southwest triangle in March. The needles are shed after growing for 3-5 years, mostly from the tree's interior. The tree itself will look thicker in autumn than in early Spring.
White pines shed their three-year-old needles, so roughly one third of itd needles are shed every year. Red pines shed one fourth of their needles each year. The pitch pine sheds its entire needle bundles after two or three years of growth of the bundle.