In my attempts to get closer to the pine in our yard, I made an important discovery today. It is not a red pine, it is a pitch pine. I discovered that its needles come in groups of three–and the red pine comes in groups of two. So then I went searching for a resource I remembered from a couple years ago–an identification guide of the pines of Maine, and confirmed everything.
It is a funny thing. I had used that resource earlier to identify the tree as a pitch pine, especially because of its habit of small patches of needles coming out of the trunk–as in the picture above. But then the arborist said no, it was a red pine, and so I deferred to their judgment. Perhaps that is one of the lessons for me to learn–arborists don’t necessarily have intimate knowledge of all tree species. Sometimes it takes detective work, which is easier with the many resources that are available online.
So this naming is making a big difference in my relationship with the pine. Now I understand the prickly feeling–according the guide, “Pitch pine cones have a sharp prickle at the end of each scale.” They are prickly! It also says, “Branches are horizontal, rigid, contorted and form an open crown.” That describes so perfectly the irregular beauty of its shape. “Pitch pine attains a diameter of 1–2 feet, and a height of only 30–40 feet.” These height numbers relieve the anxiety I had about the tree possibly growing to shade our solar panels–it is likely fully mature at its current height.
What else? It is native to eastern North America. It can live to be 200 years old. It tends to grow in acidic, sandy, and low-nutrient soils. It is a “pioneer species” and is often the first tree to vegetate a site after it has been cleared. So perhaps it speaks to the history of this land–that this land was cleared, that it was depleted. The tree can also regenerate itself–if the main trunk is cut or damaged by fire it can re-sprout using epicormic shoots, which is unusual for a conifer. (This might make it a candidate for coppicing or pollarding–the practice of cutting a tree to use the wood, after which the tree regrows.)
According to Wikipedia, “Pitch pine provides a habitat and offers food for many wildlife species. They are used as cover and nesting for birds such as the pine warbler, wild turkey, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, black-and-white warblers, and chestnut-sided warblers. Small mammals and birds eat the seeds.”
I feel like the tree and I are starting all over again with getting to know each other–now that I know the tree’s actual family and species–now that I know its family name.