Every year I think, “I should do some posts about the conifers. It would be fitting for the season…” And then I get caught up in the chaos of the season and suddenly it’s spring and… well… you can see the dilemma. I can’t promise to write about all 12 species that can be found on the Audubon property this season… but let’s start with one: The Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida).
There’s only one on the property that I’m aware of, and that is in the Arboretum – just to the right – inside the main entrance off the parking lot. All the trees in the Aboretum are native to New York or Pennsylvania, though not necessarily to our part of New York… The U.S. Forest Service range map below shows a couple of spots nearby where it might be found growing wild, but most native stands are south or east of us.
The Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs describes the Pitch Pine as “usually low, irregular, scraggly.” Needles can be 1.5 – 5 inches long and are arranged in clusters of three. It’s the only pine tree on our property with needles in clusters of three. Cones are 1 – 3 inches long, stout and the scales have sharp thorns.
It is unlikely you would use a Pitch Pine as a Christmas tree. The tree does have its uses, however. According the US Forest Service account, “Pitch Pine was an important tree during the days of wooden ships and iron men. Its coarse-grained wood is only moderately strong but contains a comparatively large amount of resin. Consequently, the wood resists decay, which makes it particularly useful for ship building.” (source)
In surfing the internet for more interesting tidbits, I came across this little anecdote at the Wood Magazine site:
The Pine Barrens did not represent valuable land back then. Just the opposite — the soil was boggy and sandy, as it remains to this day. But the land did support a thick forest of pine trees. And in the damp, soggy ground one could find iron ore.
To early Americans, that combination of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and iron ore was heaven sent. That’s because iron ore was transformed into iron by melting it to remove impurities, a process called smelting, and the fuel of choice was wood charcoal rather than the mined coal of later times. The resinous pitch pine — its sappy, hard-to-work wood seldom desired — proved perfect as a source of charcoal. (source)
That was so interesting, I wanted to know more, so I began searching for “pitch pine and iron ore”… which led me to a book I never knew about: The Natural History of North American Trees by Donald Culross Peattie. I immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 release – an abridged version of the original 2-volume set that came out in the 1950s… which I would also like to find! Since ordering it, I have found that you can also buy a Western Trees version and a Central and Eastern Trees version… Can’t wait for my copy to arrive!
It was just supposed to be a simple little post saying that needles are in bundles of three and the cones are stout with sharp thorns… And look what happened… Oh the dangers of the internet…