Eastern white pine, also know as northern white pine, pin blanc, and soft pine grows in upper elevations from north central and eastern Canada across all of New England, south to northern Georgia and west to the Great Lakes states. It is also reported that there are sporadic growths in the upper elevations of Mexico and Guatemala. It is also known as Weymouth pine, especially in Britain. This is the only pine with a sheath of five needles. They are 3 to 5 inches long, and are shed every 18 to 24 months. The cones are distinctive to the species, running from 4 to 8 inches long and slender, and the seeds provide an important food source for squirrels and birds. The seeds are wind-dispersed and the cone production peaks every 3 to 5 years.
The bark is also rather distinctive in that there are two types. The young trees have a smooth, greenish bark that is not resistant to fire damage. The bark of the older trees is furrowed, dark brown and quite resistant to fire damage. Because the tree is somewhat resistant to fire, mature survivors are able to re-seed burned areas. Some white pines live over 400 years. A tree growing near Syracuse, New York was dated to 458 years in the late 1980s and trees in both Wisconsin and Michigan have approached 500 years in age. White pines, prefer well-drained soil ( tends to suffer when sited in wet soil), and cool, humid climates, but also grow in boggy areas and rocky highlands. Intolerant of salt and air pollution, and sensitive to soil compaction. In mixed forests, this dominant tree towers over all others, including the large hardwoods.
White pine forests once covered much of northeastern North America, though only one percent of the first trees remain untouched due to extensive logging operations from the 18th century into the early 20th century. Outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, other areas with known remaining virgin stands as confirmed by the Eastern Native Tree Society include; Algonquin Provincial Park, Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Algoma Highlands, Ontario, Huron Mountains, Estivant Pines, Porcupine Mountains State Park, and the Sylvania Wilderness Area in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Hartwick Pines State Park, Menomonie Indian Reservation, northeastern Wisconsin, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota, the Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Blackduck, Minnesota, and White Pines State Park, Illinois, Cook Forest State Park, Hearts Conent Natural Area, and Anders Run, all in Pennsylvania and Linville Gorge, North Carolina. Small groves or single specimens of old-growth eastern white pines are found across the range of the species, including at Ordway Pines, Maine, Ice Glen, Massachusetts, and on many sites within New York's Adirondack Park. Many sites with large pines represent advanced old field succession.
During the age of sail, tall white pines with high quality wood were known as mast pines. By the 1700's, England had stripped her forests of large trees in order to build a world-class navy of which the main component was a strong mast. The king sent surveyors to the new world to locate and secure trees suitable for the masts, marking them with an arrow. They were reserved for the British Royal Navy. The British built special barge-like vessels that could carry up to 50 pine trunks to be used for ship masts. The wood was often squared right after felling to fit in the holds of ships better. A 100’ mast was about 3’X3’ at the butt and 2’X2’ at the top, while a 120’ mast was a giant 4’X4’ at the bottom and 30” at the top.
The marking of large trees by the Crown was very controversial in the colonies. The survey was done with no regard to who had claimed the land, much to the dismay of the settlers who were driven off the land or jailed. These folks showed their displeasure by damaging, cutting down, hauling off and even fighting battles over the trees in the years before the Revolutionary War. Nearly all of the old growth trees had fallen to the ax and saw by the late 1800's, the present growth is still impressive, often reaching heights up to 150 feet and diameters over 4 feet.
Old growth pine in the Americas was a highly desired wood because the boards are usually free of large knots. Pine was common and easy to cut, thus many colonial homes used pine for paneling, floors and furniture.
Eastern white pine should be milled as soon as possible after harvesting, even if it cut in the winter, although winter harvesting will buy you a little time. The reason for this is that there is a microorganism that stains the wood blue and the warmer the temperature, the faster and deeper the color develops. Also, during this time insects lay their eggs under the bark and, upon hatching, the grubs start mining the logs. You can hear them chewing the wood and leaving piles of sawdust.
Freshly cut white pine is creamy white or the color of pale straw but the wood that has aged many years tends to be a darker rich tan. Sometimes you can find light brown pine boards with unusual yellowish-golden or reddish-brown hues. This is called pumpkin pine. It is generally thought that slow-growing pines in virgin forests accumulate colored products in the heartwood but genetic factors and soil conditions may also play a role in rich color development.
White Pine needles contain five times the amount of Vitamin C (by weight) of lemons and make a good tea when brewed with herbs. The cambium (the layer of formative cells between the wood and bark) is edible. When pounded it can be used as flour or added to stretch other starchy foods.
Pine resin can be used to waterproof baskets, pails and boats and the sap can be processed to make turpentine. The sap also has a number of efficient antimicrobials. It is said that the Chippewa Indians used it to treat gangrenous wounds. A wet pulp from the inner bark is applied to the wounds or pine tar can be mixed with beeswax or butter and used as a salve to prevent infection. Pine tar mixed with beer can be used to remove tapeworms (flat worms) or nematodes (round worms) and pine tar mixed with sulfur is useful in treating dandruff. Pine tar is made by slowly burning pine roots, branches, or small trunks in a partially smothered flame
Eastern White Pine is the provincial tree of Ontario, Canada, and the state tree of Maine and Michigan, its "pine cone and tassel" is the "state flower" of Maine. Sprigs of Eastern White Pine were worn as badges as a symbol of Vermont identity during the Vermont Republic and appears in a stained glass window at the Vermont State House, on the Flag of Vermont and the naval ensign of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The tree is also known to the Haudenosaunee Native Americans as the Tree of Peace.
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