Virtual Nature Trail

   Red Pine Tree (Pinus resinosa)

Looking up the trunk of a red pine tree The red pine is a native North American tree species sometimes erroneously called the "Norway pine". Its natural range is around the upper Great Lakes through southern Canada west to Manatoba. It can be found further south in the United States (as in eastern West Virginia) on high mountainous ridges. The red pine has been extensively planted far outside of its natural range in re-forestation projects, in parks and in landscaping around buildings. It grows best in light, sandy, well-drained soils that are relatively low in nutrients. It does not tolerate urban conditions very well or shading by other tree species.

Red pines grow very rapidly for their first 60 or 70 years of life. They can live for up to 350 years and reach heights of 120 feet and diameters of up to three feet. 

Seeds and Seedlings
Seeds of the red pine are formed in its small, egg-shaped cones. Seeds begin to be produced when the tree reaches 15 to 25 years of age and are especially abundant every 3 to 7 years. Seeds best germinate when they fall on bare, mineral soil. The young pine seedlings also need lots of intense, direct sunlight in order to grow. Because of these germination and seedling requirements, red pines are not able to grow well in undisturbed pure stands in which the forest floor is shaded and covered with thick layers of decomposing pine needles. It is only after forest fires or some other event causing tree loss that young red pines have a chance to germinate and grow. The seeds of the red pine are eaten by a great variety of songbirds and small mammals (including mice, chipmunks etc). 

Needles, Bark and Roots
Close-up of red pine needles The needles of a red pine are in groups of two and are from 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches long. Needles last between four to five years and then fall to the forest floor where they can accumulate in a thick acidic, mulch layer on the soil surface. The bark of the red pine is flaky and orange-red in color. As the tree ages the bark becomes increasingly thick and irregularly diamond shaped. The roots of the red pine are moderately deep and wide spreading. The lateral root masses also send down "sinkers" which anchor the tree very well in the soil. Red pines are very wind firm because of this dense root system. The dead and damaged red pines that have fallen out on the Nature Trail, in fact, have not wind-thrown by pulling up their roots masses but instead have broken near their bases leaving their stumps and root systems intact.

Broken trunk of a red pine The red pines on the Nature Trail have been dying at a very rapid rate over the past fifteen years. Some of this mortality is probably due to the stress of moist soils and edge shading by the encroaching hardwood species, but much of the loss of these pines is without question the result of subtle climatic and seasonal stresses generated by existence outside of the species' natural range.

A common fate of a red pine stand in many natural forest systems is to be shaded out by hardwood tree seedlings (like maple or oak or aspen) that readily germinate and grow in the moist, protected, shaded conditions of the pine forest floor. These hardwood trees slowly grow up and through the established canopy eventually kill the standing pines. This interaction and change in these forest ecosystems is an example of a process called succession (see "Exploring Succession"). On the Nature Trail, the growth of white ash and white oak up into the canopy of the red pine or the surge of yellow poplar into the sun gaps of the failing pine forest are major, local successional events. 

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