Scientific Name: Pinus strobus L
How big are white pine? White pine are the largest conifer east of the Mississippi and the second largest pine in North America. Mature White Pine are usually about 100 ft tall and 3ft in diameter. Historically white pine of up to 250 ft tall and 10 ft in diameter were found. The largest white pine in Minnesota is in Itasca State Park, it is 14 1/2 ft around and 113 feet tall.
How long do white pine live? The average mature white pine will live about 200 years. Some have been found that are over 450 years old!
What do their leaves look like? White pine do not have leaves, they have needles. They are the only tree with five needle clusters east of the Mississippi, this makes them easy to identify. Their needles are bunched together in groups of five and each needle is between 3 and 5 inches long.
What does white pine bark look like? The bark of a white pine changes as it grows. When they are young they have smooth gray-green bark. As they mature their bark turns gray-brown and it becomes rough. Mature trees have broad scaly ridges 1 to 2 inches thick that run up and down the trees. These ridges are separated by deep groves in the tree’s bark.
Where do white pines like to grow? White pines can live in a variety of habitats from dry sandy soils and rocky ridges, to sphagnum bogs. They grow best in a moist sandy soil. Historically white pine were found from Minnesota across the great lakes region and through out the northeastern United States. However, most of the white pine have been logged and now there are less than 1/10 of 1% of the original virgin white pine forests left. Luckily some of the last remaining old growth or virgin forests are found in the border country.
What happened to all of the white pine? In the early 1600’s the British began harvesting white pines and the harvesting continued for over 300 years until almost all of the white pines were cut down. The British used white pines to make masts for their ships because they were tall and straight as well as strong and light. White pines played a role in the revolutionary war because the king of England declared that all white pine over 24 inches in diameter belonged to the king and anyone who cut one down would loose their land. This made the people living in America mad and was one of the reasons for the revolutionary war. The white pine was on the first flag of the revolutionary soldiers, the that flag was carried at the Battle of Bunker Hill. People thought that the forests white pines, 200 feet tall and stretching for miles, would last forever. Between 1776 and 1940 2.4 quadrillion board feet of white pine was logged. All of this wood stacked in a city block would stack 400 miles high! By the 1950’s all of the vast forests of white pines had been cut down. The only remaining stands were small pockets in very remote areas such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Are there animals that depend on white pine to survive? There are many animals that use white pines. Mother black bears often hang out around white pines with their cubs. The rough bark of the white pine is easy for the bears to climb and the big branches are easy for them to rest on. A 31 year study in the border country showed that 81% of bald eagles nest in large white pines and 77% of Osprey nest in large white pines even though white pines make up less than 1% of the trees in the forest! This is an example of how important these big and beautiful trees are.