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In part 2 of our Tree Identification blog we talked about how to distinguish between some of the more common groups of coniferous trees here in the Northeast. We will expand upon that in today’s blog and will discuss how to distinguish between some of the more common pine trees here in the Northeast.
Location of the pine tree in question can help you determine the species. If it is in the woods or in a “natural” area away from the coast here in the Northeast it is probably either an eastern white (Pinus strobus) or a red pine (Pinus resinosa). Needle and cone characteristics will make the distinction easy. If the tree is in a natural area closer to the coast it may also be a pitch pine (Pinus rigida). The most common types of pines found in home landscapes in the Northeast are as follows: 1) eastern white 2) Austrian 3) red 4) Japanese black and 5) Scotch pines. Eastern white pines are the most common.
Once you have determined that a tree is a type of pine first look at the size of the cones. Let’s break cone size into 2 groups: 1) large-over four inches long or 2) small-around three inches or less in length. If the cones are over 4” in length it is highly probable it is an eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). There will be 5 needles per fascicle and the needles will be over 3” long, and be thin & flexible. If the cones are less than 4” long it is probably a red, Austrian, Scotch, pitch or
Japanese black. While there may be some other possibilities, these choices are usually the most likely candidates.
Examination of the needles of these trees is the next
step. How many needles are grouped together (either 2’s, 3’s or 5’s) in a bundle (fascicle)? Almost all pine species here in the Northeast will have either 2 or 5 needles per fascicle. If the tree has mostly 3 needles per fascicle it is probably a pitch pine. The tree trunk will also have areas with tufts of needles emerging from it.
Bark characteristics can also be useful, especially in some cases, in distinguishing pine species. Does the tree trunk have a predominantly orangish color? If bark is thin and flaky it is probably a Scotch (Scots) pine (Pinus sylvestris). Needles will be less than 3” long, stiff and twisted. If the tree trunk is showing some reddish-orange color low on the trunk between distinct bark ridges and the needles are long (over 4”) and break cleanly when bent it is probably a red pine.
Tree form or shape of the tree can sometimes be useful in identification. For example, if tree trunks are growing at somewhat of a slant it is a good chance it is a Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii). Buds will be elongate and whitish-fuzzy. Needles will be firm and 2 per fascicle.
Austrian pines (Pinus nigra) are probably the second most widely planted pine in landscapes in the Northeast. This alone should be useful for tree ID. If you have gone through the list above and not identified your tree there is a very good chance it is an Austrian pine.
There will be 2 needles per fascicle and needles will be stiff with the needle tips “pointy” when pressed on with your palm. They closely resemble red pines. Austrian pines do not have any reddish-orange areas in lower bark furrows and their needles will not snap
Diseases characteristic of certain tree species can sometimes aid in tree ID. Older Austriuan pines often show symptoms of pine tip blight (dead branch tips with dead, stunted needles).
While you may encounter other pine species such as Korean, limber, Japanese white, Japanese red or Swiss Stone pine, the list above is quite useful in most cases. Check the characteristics associated with the species listed in the previous sentence if you have progressed through the list and you still have not identified your pine. Also, identification of younger trees can be difficult since traits such a form, bark color and cones may not be present to aid your identification.
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