How to Identify an Eastern White Pine Tree in the Landscape

The noble Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a historic tree, providing the basis for countless timber-frame structures and Colonial homes throughout New England and the world over the past few centuries. It’s also a beloved Christmas tree and feature in the landscape. Here in Maine, it often grows up to 130 feet tall and four feet in diameter, and can be found virtually anywhere you look. But if you aren’t an Eastern White Pine aficionado, you might not know how to tell it apart from other pines.

Whether sprouting up in the wild or growing in commercial timberlands, the Eastern White Pine tree stands tall and proud with an extraordinarily long, straight trunk. Taller trees often have branches that reach above the forest canopy, the highest ones swept upward. In fact, many older Eastern White Pines are asymmetrical due to their exposure to the wind.

Eastern White Pine needles via Adirondack Nature

From afar, the bluish-green needles on its horizontal, parallel branches often have a feathery appearance. Get in close and you’ll see that these long, thin needles grow five to a cluster, each one three to five inches long. Touch them and they’ll be soft and flexible. In contrast, Red Pine and Jack Pine needles come in bundles of two, and Pitch Pine in bundles of three. White pines also lose all but the current year’s needles each year in fall.

Eastern White Pine cones

Want to determine the approximate age of an Eastern White Pine in the landscape? For each year the tree is alive, it grows a single whorl of branches from its trunk, just below the terminal bud at the very top. Count them and you’ll get an idea, looking for signs of lower branches that have been shaded out and fallen off over time. 

Eastern White Pine bark

The bark on a young Eastern White Pine tree looks smooth and greenish-gray, while mature trees begin to develop a reddish brown tone and layers of scales forming ridges that are broken into irregular shapes. The pine cones are longer and thinner than those of other pines that grow in this region. They gradually taper, and their scales aren’t sharp and prickly. 

The parts of the Eastern White Pine tree have many uses, starting, of course, with lumber. The United States lumber industry was founded on this special tree, which is prized for its lightness, workability, straightness and the fact that it shrinks and swells very little. Its needles are high in vitamin C, so they’re often steeped like tea. New shoots can be peeled and candied, and the sap is naturally antibacterial. Peel the nuts out of the pine cone for a crunchy snack high in fat and protein. You can even make flour from the bark. Check out more info in the articles below!

Modern Treehouse Explores the Beauty of Wood

Woodnest treehouse

Who doesn’t love a good treehouse? Many of us spent our childhood in humble little forts tacked haphazardly to the branches of a backyard tree, but some people carry the tradition into adulthood with structures that are almost the size and complexity of a standard house. In Norway, a new creation by architecture firm Helen & Hard maintains the plucky spirit of handmade wooden treehouse, but elevates it (literally and metaphorically) into a beautiful modern getaway.

Woodnest treehouse windows
Woodnest treehouse view

“Woodnest” references the traditional wooden architecture of the area as well as the nests of birds and other woodland creatures. Suspended about 18 feet off the forest floor, the structure attaches to a living pine tree with a steel collar. The architects envision it as a place where visitors can pause to appreciate the smaller details of the natural environments we inhabit as well as the grain of the timber in the treehouse itself.

Woodnest treehouse front

Measuring just over 160 square feet, “Woodnest” is organized around the central tree trunk, and there’s a lot more to it than you’d imagine at first glance. There are four sleeping areas as well as a bathroom, kitchen and living space to enjoy, along with panoramic windows offering views of the fjord below and the mountains on the other side.

Woodnest treehouse in forest

“Stemming from the client’s wish to create a unique spatial experience that connects to both the ordinary and extraordinary sensation of climbing and exploring trees, our aim was to create a space that truly embodies what it means to dwell in nature.  The journey to the site begins with the 20minute walk from the town of Odda, on the edge of the fjord and up through the forest via a steep winding path. Each treehouse is accessed via a small timber bridge, leading the visitor off the ground, into the structure and up in to the tree.”

Woodnest treehouse ceiling

“At the very core of the project is the appreciation of timber as a building material.”

” Inspired by the Norwegian cultural traditions of vernacular timber architecture, together with a desire to experiment with the material potential of wood, the architecture is structurally supported by the tree trunk itself, and formed from a series of radial glu-laminated timber ribs. The untreated natural timber shingles encase the volume creating a protective skin around the building, which will weather over time to merge and blend with the natural patina of the surrounding forest.”

Woodnest treehouse bridge

The wooden bridge leading to the treehouse from the path brings a little bit of playfulness to the project. Is it enough to make you want to design your own, or what?

A Tree to Treasure: The Weeping ‘Angel Falls’ Eastern White Pine

Angel Falls Eastern White Pine

Most Americans in the Eastern half of the nation are familiar with the Pinus strobus tree, better known as the Eastern (or Northern) White Pine. But there’s one particular variety of this beloved conifer that’s less common that gives us even more reasons to love the species.

Pinus Strobus Angel Falls

Angel Falls Iseli Nursery

While the Eastern White Pine normally stands tall, with the oldest specimens soaring hundreds of feet into the air, ‘Angel Falls’ is more demure, its posture mimicking that of celebrated weeping trees like willows and cherries. Growing in popularity as a landscaping feature, ‘Angel Falls’ isn’t seen in natural mixed species forests because it’s actually a cultivar developed in by Iseli Nursery in Oregon. Here’s how they describe it:

“Started from seed in 1981, the slow-growing tree has very long, very narrow, light green needles and a strong weeping habit. Its closely held branches develop graceful draping forms that combine a tall, narrow stature with a broad, flowing skirt. Named for the world’s tallest waterfall after 20 years of evaluation, the unique tree offers elegance and style.”


Pendula Conifer Society

Angel Falls isn’t the only weeping variety of Pinus strobus. Others include the low-growing semi-dwarf Pendula, which has a tendency to create mounded shapes. A smaller cultivar is the Blue Shag, which grows just 3 to 6 inches per year to a mature size of roughly 5 by 5 feet. Iseli Nursery’s ‘Niagara Falls’ cultivar features an abundance of draping branches and a flowing habit, as its name suggests. The Angel Falls, meanwhile, can stand quite a bit taller when staked.

While none of these drooping pines have much to offer in the way of lumber, they’re prized among gardeners, and show off some of the non-commercial reasons to nurture and treasure the Eastern White Pine in all of its forms.

Images via Plants Map/Bill Blevins, F.D. Richards/Flickr CC by 2.0, Hickory Hollow Nursery, Bill Barger/Conifer Society

Modernist Wooden Grotto Immerses You in 390 Million Years of Trees

modernist grotto 1

The entire history of trees on earth, from the very first species that emerged 390 million years ago to species only recently discovered, comes together in a single sculptural installation on the grounds of a garden in the UK. ‘Hollow’ by artist Katie Paterson and architects Zeller & Moye is a meditation space made of lumber sourced and gathered from around the globe, immersing visitors in a miniature forest of spectacular diversity.

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Set into the grass at the Historic Royal Fort Gardens in Bristol, ‘Hollow’ is a beautiful and evocative tribute to the history and importance of trees, each individual piece telling a story. The 10,000 wooden components range from tiny little cubes of rare samples to beams that run nearly the entire height of the installation, glued together in a seemingly random arrangement to create a sort of cavern. Look up from the inside and you’ll see the sky through a series of apertures, designed to mimic the way sunlight filters through the branches in a forest canopy.

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“Some samples are incredibly rare – fossils of unfathomable age, and fantastical trees such as cedar of Lebanon, the Phoenix palm, and the Methuselah Tree thought to be one of the oldest trees in the world at 4,847 years of age,” says Paterson. “Also, a railroad tie taken from the Panama Canal Railway, which claimed the lives of between 5,000 to 10,000 workers over its 50 year construction, and wood salvaged from the remnants of the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.”