(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 14, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
There are many different kinds of pines; from dwarf species that hover around knee height to the monolithic Ponderosa that can reach over 200 feet tall in the wild.
Pines grow around the world in climates varying from the damp, humid Southern United States, to the arid, high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, to the Scottish Highlands and many other parts of Europe. Here is an overview of pine trees from around the globe.
Is that really a pine?
For the purposes of this article, we will only be discussing "proper" pines: those that are in the genus Pinus. In all honesty, it is difficult to tell the difference between firs, spruces and pines. As a rule of thumb, Taunton.com has an excellent reference:
Look at the place where needles emerge from a twig. If there are multiple needles from a single spot, you likely have a pine. If there is only a single needle, you most likely have a fir or spruce (1).
Types of Pines
White Pine (Pinus strobus)
White pines are a common sight in northern North America. They are easily identifiable because they have clusters of 5 needles per fascicle and are often asymmetrical when viewed as a whole. The White Pine is actually a blue-green color with soft, flexible needles and branches. It can grow up to 80 feet tall with up to a 40 foot spread. White pines need moist, well-drained soils and are hardy in zone 3 through 8 (2)(14).
Rocky Mountain Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis)
The Pinyon pine is a native to the Intermountain region of western North America. It is a small, scrubby looking pine that is often seen growing with junipers. The Pinyon pine rarely reaches heights taller than 35 feet and is very slow growing. Pinyons are very long lived trees, generally living 200 years and some specimens have been recorded up to 1,000 years old. Pinyon pines will survive myriad climates, from high mountain altitudes to drought-ridden plains (3).
Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii)
Slash pines are native to the coastal plains of North America from South Carolina to the Florida Keys. They have been introduced to Kentucky, Virginia and Texas where the slash pine now reproduces freely. Slash pines can live as long as 200 years and will typically grow 60 to 100 feet tall. The form of slash pines is unique in that the needles are held in tufts, high above the ground on open, airy branches. They are hardy in zones 7 through 10 (4).
Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra)Austrian pines are native to most parts of Europe and parts of Asia. Austrian pines make excellent specimen or landscape trees because of their symmetrical appearance. With age, the branches spread very wide horizontally and hang gracefully. It is a very hardy and adaptable tree, withstanding city or seaside conditions, heat and drought, as well as many different soil types. It can grow up to 60 feet tall with a 40 foot spread (5)(6)(14).
Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo)
Mugo pines are available in a variety of sizes from a couple feet high to varieties that can grow up to 20 feet tall. It is generally planted as an ornamental in landscapes because of their compact size and drought tolerance. Mugo pine is a native of Alpine Europe and can withstand zones 2 through 7. Mugo pines also make excellent bonsai specimens (7)(14).
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)
Ponderosa pine is the most widely distributed North American native pine. It can be found from the mountain forests of the west from British Colombia and south to Texas and Mexico. It has dark gray-green, olive or yellow green needles. It can grow up to 100 feet tall in the landscape with a moderate to rapid growth rate. It is hardy in zones 3 through 7 (8)(14).
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
Also known as the Arkansas pine, oldfield pine and North Caroline pine, the Loblolly is arguably the most commercially important forest trees of the eastern US. Loblolly pines can be found en masse on approximately 29 million acres from southern New Jersey south toward Florida and west toward Texas. It is very fast growing and is often used as a quick screen in many landscapes. This North American native grows in a wide variety of soils and is drought tolerant. It can reach up to 100 feet high with a 35 foot spread. It is hardy in zone 6 though 9 (9)(14).
Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Scots pine is the most widely distributed conifer in the world. It can be found as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Spain. Its east to west distribution is from western Scotland to eastern Siberia. It is a beautiful blue-green color and can be seen growing in as many as 11 different forms. It is adaptable to nearly any climate, altitude, and soil. It generally doesn't grow over 60 feet tall and can be used as either a windbreak or a single specimen (10)(14).
Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata and Pinus longaeva)
Bristlecone Pines are the longest living organism on earth. Bristlecones can be found naturally in 6 US states, with the oldest ones thriving in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California. Bristlecones have adjusted to the harshest climates where they thrive like no other trees can. The average age of a Bristlecone in the White Mountains is 1,000 years with a few that date to over 4,000 years old. The oldest living inhabitant on earth, a Bristecone Pine nicknamed "Methuselah," has been dendrochronologically dated to 4,774 years old. Methuselah stands living today in the White Mountains of California, but is unmarked to prevent vandalism.
Bristlecones can be identified by their pipe cleaner-like appearance. Even though they grow very old, the trees top out in height at 60 feet. Bristlecones can withstand seemingly unlivable conditions from drought (only 10" per year) to incredible altitudes (many are found growing at timberline which is approximately 11,000 feet) (11).
Bristlecones are currently being planted in landscapes for their unique look and resiliency. You can bet good money the tree will outlast the structure they are landscaped around!
Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)
Longleaf Pines are native to the southeastern plains of the US. While they once covered 60 million acres, years of land clearing and logging have dwindled the natural stands of Longleaf Pines. Modern reforestation efforts are helping the trees make a comeback.
Longleaf pines can reach up to 100 feet tall and are characterized by their 8-18 inch long needles. It grows in fairly dense stands of pines and will withstand nutrient-poor soils. Longleaf pines take 100 to 150 years to reach full size and can live up to 300 years (12).
Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)
Lodgepole Pines are known for their long, slender trunks and are native to the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions of the US. Forests dominated by Lodgepole Pines cover approximately 65 million acres in the US and Canada ()). Lodgepole Pines have flaky, thin bark that is usually orange-brown to grey or black. The cones, which appear from 6-10 years of age, can remain attached to the tree for years.
Lodgepoles can thrive in a surprising range of conditions. They prefer full sun, but will tolerate light shade; they can survive on as little water as 10 inches per year and up to 200 inches; they are hardy from -70 degrees to well over 100 degrees. Lodgepole Pines are also an important commercial timber variety (13)(14).
Pines have such a broad range of types and many of them have interesting histories and growing culture. There are many more species of pines in the world that were not mentioned in this article. This is just a broad sampling of some of the more popular and interesting varieties. With a pine for every climate and location, hopefully you will enjoy the beauty of pines during the coming cold winter months.
Thumbnail- Morgue File, photojockAustrian Pine - PalmbobMugo Pine - Hczone6 White Pine - DesignartLodgepole Pine - WillmetgePonderosa Pine - JoanJPinyon Pine - GustichockBristlecone - Todd_Boland Loblolly Pine - RonDEZone7aSlash Pine - MgarrLongleaf Pine - ToxicodendronScots Pine - Slyperso1