One of my favorite trees is the Pitch Pine. It’s a medium sized tree, that can reach 40-50 feet in height, but is usually smaller and contorted, inhabiting rocky hill tops and sandy soils where forest fires have killed off most other tree species. It is common in the Northeastern US, particularly in New Jersey and Massachusetts, There’s a lot of it in the Middlesex Fells, a nature preserve near my house, just north of Boston.
The bark of a mature Pitch Pine is arranged in thick plates with deep furrows which protect it both from fire and cold winters. Needles commonly sprout from the trunk of the tree, an adaption to fire, allowing the tree to re-sprout, even if the crown has been killed. The needles are in fascicles of three about 6-12 cm in length and the tree’s cones are oval with prickles on the scales.
The wood of the Pitch Pine has a high resin content, and is used for railroad ties, construction lumber, pulpwood, fuel, and charcoal. Pine pitch, a preservative, is used in cosmetics, soaps or detergents, and aromatic compounds. The dried resin, known as rosin, is also used for violin bows.
The Nature Conservancy reports that pitch pine communities throughout New England have significantly decreased in acreage during the past several decades because of fire suppression. Without burning, stands of Pitch Pine are forced to compete with other hardwood trees causing them to die-off because they are intolerant of shade.