From loblollies to shortleafs, pines plentiful in Carolina

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 09:18 PM


Pines are an integral part of the North Carolina landscape with most yards having at least one. And truth be told, they are a fair tree. At maturity the substantial trunks develop attractive bark, copper colored and deep fissured.

In fact, the pine is the State Tree of North Carolina, and worthy of the appellation. From turpentine to timber, it has been a mainstay of our economy for centuries.

But “pine” is actually a very general term, and the genus includes scores of species. The pine in your yard is almost certainly a loblolly (Pinus taeda), the most common in the state. With a height at maturity of 75 feet or better, it can be a substantial presence.

One endearing quality of the lovely loblolly is that the shade it casts is dappled. This is due to the narrow leaves (i.e. the needles) and relatively slender width, a mere thirty or forty feet compared to an oak which can spread twice as far. Thus, turf may perform a little better under a pine canopy, and you have more options when it comes to shrubs and flowers.

Care instructions for a loblolly can be summarized in five words: Give it room to grow. If your development or home lot was carved out of the woods, there is a good chance the builder left a stand of overstocked pines. From 30 to 40 feet between trees is ideal, given the aforementioned canopy width at maturity. In many lots, the average spacing is ten feet or even less. Small young trees are easily thinned. Larger ones will require professional assistance, possibly at substantial cost.

But, as they say, pay me now or pay me later. Overstocked trees will have smaller canopies and grow more slowly, leaving them more susceptible to the dreaded pine beetle. The trunks will be small and spindly, and therefore weaker.

Another common pest is the fusiform rust fungus, which causes a swollen region on the tree, turning bright orange in spring. Although not fatal, it’s best to remove infected branches.

Occasionally pines are found in our Piedmont landscapes. The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is a stately tree with (you’d never guess) long needles. It also sports large cones which are ideal for those peanut butter bird feeders you make with the kids, and for holiday decorations. Once common in our state, it was heavily harvested in colonial times for construction and shipbuilding. Longleaf pine forests are uncommonly beautiful, and contain a unique assemblage of plant and animal species, including many rare wildflowers and the handsome fox squirrel.

The shortleaf pine, you’ll be surprised to learn, has short needles. It is native and well-adapted to our area, but much less common than the loblolly.

Occasionally you will find a white pine (Pinus strobus) in these parts. While this tree is native to our state, it thrives best in the western Piedmont and foothills. In our area it will eventually (in maybe 30 years) succumb to the cumulative effect of our hot summers, and is thus not recommended.

There are also a variety of small ornamental pines that make handsome additions to the landscape. For the rare pineless landscape, these are a great way to “join the club” and pay tribute to a tree that is deeply intertwined into the economy, environment and lore of this fine state.