It is during the winter, when the deciduous trees are bare, that we pay most attention to the conifers. But, since I park by pickup beneath a large white pine at our Columbia home, I find it hard to ignore this tree in any season. In spring, its small staminate flowers release a copious amount of yellow pollen which coats the truck; soon thereafter the spongy flowers begin to fall, collecting in the bed or along the base of the windshield. Drops of pine sap leave sticky residue on the hood throughout the year and heaps of yellowing pine needles surround the pickup in mid autumn.
Eastern white pines, the largest conifers in eastern North America, are native to southern Canada, New England, Pennsylvania, and the Great Lake States, extending southward along the Appalachian chain. Widely planted as ornamentals, these stately trees were once used for sail masts and are now harvested for lumber or used as Christmas trees. Often growing up to 100 feet tall and possessing a girth that may exceed 10-15 feet, some white pines in virgin stands exceed 200 feet in height. Those that escape browsing, disease or human harvesting may live for 250 years and a few specimens are known to be nearly 500 years old.
Due to their relatively long needles (bundled in groups of 5) and the open spacing of their limbs, eastern white pines have an airy appearance. Their 6-inch cones peak in number every 3-5 years and bear seeds that are favored by tree squirrels, pine siskins, nuthatches, crossbills and a variety of finches. Moderately resistant to fire, white pines often form extensive stands in undisturbed areas, overgrowing and shading out their smaller deciduous neighbors. My pickup truck and I can certainly vouch for their rapid growth and prolific nature!