The white pine is on the list of most popular Christmas trees. But if you’ve never seen one in the wild, you really don’t know what a white pine (Pinus strobus) can be. These tall, lofty trees have a distinctive cloudlike appearance from a distance—this is because of the long, soft, blue-green needles in clusters of five. In most cases, branches are evenly spaced, almost like stair steps circling the tree. Older trees often lose their roughly pyramidal shape and become craggy and irregular. This beautiful, regal tree is the state tree of Maine and Michigan.
Common name: White pine, eastern white pine
Botanical name: Pinus strobus
Plant type: Needled evergreen
Zones: 4 to 9
Height: 50 to 80 feet; can reach 100 feet or more in the wild.
· Sun: Full sun to part shade
· Soil: Average, well-drained. Tolerates most types of soil.
· Moisture: Medium
· Mulch: Add 3 to 6 inches of organic mulch to help soil retain moisture. Don’t mulch up against the tree trunk, as this encourages rot.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed.
Pests and diseases
· White pine blister rust, a bark disease, can be a problem. If you have white pines, don’t plant Ribes species (gooseberries and currants, for instance), as they are an alternate host for the rust.
· Pests include white pine weevil, sawflies, and scale insects. Deer like the twigs.
· The mature height of white pines is 80 feet or more, so be sure to plant the tree in a spot where it will have plenty of room.
· This is generally not a tree for city dwellers. Though white pines can tough it out in wind and cold weather, they don’t like urban air pollution or road salt.
· Excellent for a hedges, screens, or windbreaks.
· Birds are attracted to seeds in the pinecones.
· Dwarf cultivars such as ‘Blue Shag’ and ‘Sea Urchin’ grow only 2 to 4 feet tall and are useful for small gardens.
· ‘Pendula’ is a weeping semi-dwarf that grows 6 to 15 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide.
· The columnar cultivar ‘Fastigiata’ grows 30 to 40 feet tall and about 10 feet wide.
All in the family
· The pine family has about 120 species. Members of Pinaceae are found throughout the northern hemisphere.
· Other familiar pines are the bristlecone pine of the southwestern United States (P. artistata), the mugo pine (P. mugo), and the loblolly pine (P. taeda).
Where to buy
· The Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE, 888-448-7337, www.arborday.org
· Cold Stream Farm, Freesoil, MI, 231-464-5809, www.coldstreamfarm.net
· Porcupine Hollow Farm, Central Lake, MI, 800-568-9179, www.porkyfarm.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Pinus strobus courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)