One of the most common trees in the eastern United States is the white pine or pinus strobus. The tree is also known as the northern white pine, Weymouth pine, and soft pine. It can be found ranging from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the north and south along the Piedmont to northern Georgia and west along the Great Lakes to Minnesota and Manitoba.
The white pine thrives in areas with moderate summer temperatures but it can grow in boggy soil and on rocky mountains. Its bark is thin and smooth and a greyish green in color. It produces needles and pine cones rather than leaves which provide food for several species of birds and small forest mammals. The wood is predominantly a golden tan color. White pines are fire-resistant to a degree and are able to reseed an area quickly following a fire.
The trees are evergreens and make excellent park trees. The trees themselves can reach 180 feet in height and live to be at least 450 years old and maybe even 500 years. One large white pine, the Boogerman Pine in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is believed to be the tallest known specimen, checking in at 186 feet and it is the tallest measured tree east of the Rocky Mountains.
Amongst the Iroquois Confederacy this tree was known as the Tree of Peace, a symbol of the five tribes of the Iroquois living in harmony and solitude. That solitude was disrupted briefly by an English explorer named George Weymouth who, while exploring what is today Maine, met the Iroquois and brought back with him seeds of the tree to England. The trees did not survive as blister rust disease wiped out the specimens shortly after they were introduced. The white pine has been introduced more recently to the Czech Republic and Poland more successfully. Logging has wiped out many of the old growth forests though pockets of virgin stands still exist today and many are protected by state, provincial, or federal legislation. It is after all the provincial tree of Ontario and the state tree of both Maine and Michigan. Sprigs of the tree were worn as badges in Vermont while they were an independent republic.
White pines have historically been used for lumber due to their aesthetic appeal and their smell. They were used for floorboards due to their lack of knots and the ease of cutting the trees and many pre-Civil War homes typically had white pinewood floors. The one downside to the floors was that they would cup over time. Loggers also liked them as they could hold onto the trees for nearly a year before cutting them unlike other woods which require immediate processing. The white pine was also used for sailing ship masts, including on the famous warship U.S.S. Constitution. The pine needles also contain massive amounts of Vitamin C, making them an excellent ingredient for an herbal tea. The resin produced by the tree can be used to treat wounds and for waterproofing. Pine tar can be produced by slowly burning the roots and branches and are helpful in removing tapeworms and nematodes, as well as for helping batters keep their bats in their hands while swinging, though don’t use too much of it (just ask George Brett). Its most famous use comes in December when we bring a white pine into our home to decorate as we celebrate the holiday season.