Friday, November 11, 2011

The Pine

I’ve been walking past this little pine for several years without paying it any special attention. I wondered why it wasn’t growing over in the low pH soils with the other Virginia Pines, but dismissed it as just being another oddity of Blue Jay Barrens. It put on a tremendous amount of growth this year, so I stopped to give it a closer look.

The trunk at the base of the tree is out of proportion with the upper growth. There are signs that growth has been a struggle. The central trunk shown here was once a side branch that took over the leadership position when the original lead shoot died or was eaten. The trunk supports several short side branches that would take over as the central leader if the top was once again lost.

I found several frass filled webs scattered about the tree. The webs were all quite small, but were tightly packed with caterpillar droppings, so I’m assuming that it was some type of communal nest. It was odd that there was very little evidence of any missing needles.

The tree must have suffered a lot of damage during its lifetime. Odd growths, weird branch angles and other deformities are everywhere you look. Sometime in the past, the top was removed at this point and two branches are battling to become the one true leader. A vertical crack at the joining point of the two branches will be a perfect place for the tree to split under a heavy snow load. This tree doesn’t seem to have much of a chance of getting very tall.

While I was photographing, the fact jumped out at me that this pine had three needles to a bundle , instead of the two that are a trait of Virginia Pine. Not being a Virginia Pine may explain why it’s not growing with the Virginia Pines. Three slightly twisted needles in a bundle points to Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida. If this truly is Pitch Pine, then I have another species to add to my list. These healthy looking buds suggest that I’ll have plenty of time to study this tree and decide for sure on the ID.

Now I’ll have to pay closer attention to this guy so I can be sure of its designation. I’ll also have to make a check in the pine field to see if there are any pines over there that aren’t Virginia Pine. I love these kinds of surprises.


  1. Good luck with your research. That's just the kind of woodland surprise I like and look for too. Something I've walked past for years maybe, suddenly looks a little different and I have to figure out what the story is.

  2. Hi Carolyn. This kind of surprise is always fun.

  3. OOh, nice little tree. We have a very small population of Pitch Pine about a 1.5 hour drive from where I live, in the 1000 Islands area of Ontario. I used to work at a National Park in that area, and these pines were a big deal for us! They're fire-dependent, I believe (to open the mature cones). Cool find!

  4. Hi TGIQ. I'm still studying the tree to be sure of the ID. It would help if it was a little bit bigger.