top of page

White Pine

Pinus strobus

There is only one white pine in the Park, in the southeast triangle. See Wikipedia entry here.
This is a large pine native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland west to Minnesota and as far south as north Georgia.
white pine.jpeg
White pine factoids:
  • It is the largest northeastern conifer, growing up to 100 feet tall and living as long as 400 years.
  • The needles are flexible and in bundles, or fascicles, of five. If a pine in the northeastern United States has five needles in a fascicle, you can be pretty confidant it is a white pine. A memory tip: white has five letters, the same number as the needles in a fascicle in a white pine.
  • The fascicles grow right out of the branches. 
  • White pine forests in colonial times were cleared for the flooring and framing of houses and barns.
  • Tall white pines with quality wood were known in colonial times as mast pines, reserved for the King's navy for use as masts. The New Hampshire Pine Tree Riot of 1772 was a minor rebellion preceding the 1776 major rebellion.
  • The number of whorls of branches from the ground up correlates directly with the age of the tree.
  • The mat of needles below a white pine is normal, as the interior and lower needles turn brown and fall off
  • Like all pines, the white pine is monoecious, meaning male and female cones are on the same tree. The female cones mature on the tree and release their hidden seeds.
  • Sap drippings from the bark turn white upon exposure to air. This hardened sap from members of the pine genus is called amber, and can trap insects and fossilize. The Greek word for amber is "elektron," from which came the English word "electricity."
  • The white pine appeared on flags on ships commissioned by George Washington in the American Revolution. It appears today on the State flag of Maine.
white pine flag.png
Flag flown from ships commissioned by George Washington during the early years of the American Revolution. The white pine was used for making the masts of many ships.
Botany 101 Bonus
How do roots "know" to grow downwards? How do stems know to grow upwards? Trees can't move, so mechanisms that help them adjust to their environments have evolved. Tropisms are plant responses in growth patterns to their environmental cues.
For example, look at the photo below of our white pine. It is leaning toward the south and the lower trunk has a slight curve in it. Trees respond to the effects of gravity and the availability of light. 
white pine march crop.jpg
Even if you plant a seed upside down in the soil, the roots grow toward the center of the Earth, growing along the lines of the force of gravity. This tropism is called positive gravitropism. Likewise, stems above-ground will tend to grow away from the force of gravity, i.e. upwards (negative gravitropism). This tropism is also called geotropism, but gravitropism is a more general term, since if you put germinating seeds on a spinning record turntable to simulate a gravity force outwards, the roots will grow outwards and the stems will grow inwards (don't take my word for it, experiment!).
Stems of trees grow towards the sunlight. Houseplants on window sills will lean towards the light. This maximizes the amount of sunlight on each leaf. If you put a germinating plant in the corner of a covered shoebox, with a a window cut in the far end and light-barrier obstacles placed between the plant and the window, the plant will grow around the barriers and out the window (experiment!). This tropism is called phototropism. 
I suspect our white pine was planted at an angle originally, and then negative gravitropism and phototropism formed the curve by faster growth of cells on the south side of the tree. The upper part of the trunk seems to be straight, not curved, since the tree is maximally tracking the sun as it moves across the southern sky by having a slight southward tilt. Even though the whole tree is tilted, the upper part has straightened as it is growing towards the sunlight.
By the way, if you look at the vines on the fence just south of the white pine, you will see an example of another tropism, thigmotropism. Some plants change their growth pattern in response to mechanical factors, like contact with a fence. When the tiny stems of growing vines contact the fence, the stems accelerate growth in such a way as to secure themselves to the fence. This maximizes upwards growth towards the sunlight and minimizes wind damage.
bottom of page