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Mother Nature Monday: In the (White) Pines

The sunlight reaches the ground level of the lower loop of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest loop trail more easily than it did twenty years ago. The death of the beautiful Eastern Hemlocks due to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgids helped to create a new microenvironment that many plants, insects and fish are happily discovering. One tree that you may begin to see more commonly is the Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus).

These trees grow quickly. At first, they appear as a small green tuft growing up about five to six inches. That is when I first notice them. Eventually they grow to a massive size. They were first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1759 and have a number of other common names including the Weymouth Pine in England and the Tree of Peace by the Iroquois. It is the only five-needled pine east of the Rockies.

A seedling Eastern White Pine that could grow to 145 feet high. A mountain laurel blossom is resting on it.

During the age of sailing ships, a tall Eastern White Pine with good wood was called a mast pine. The trees with their tall, straight trunks, were marked by agents of the Crown in colonial times with the broad arrow and were reserved for the British Royal Navy. The Broad Arrow marking looks like a skinny pyramid supporting a teepee or upside-down V. Interestingly, the masts on the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) were single trees but later they were laminated to better withstand cannonballs.

“Marking of large specimens by The Crown was very controversial in the colonies, and their de facto seizure was a point of great contention among the colonists and played a significant role in the events leading to the American Revolution. During the American Revolution it became a great sport for the patriots to see how many of the King’s trees one could cut down and haul off.” – quoted from the American Conifer Society.

Picture showing the five leaves that are bundled. The tree can be identified by these. W H I T E. five letters. Five needles in a bundle.

The pollen of the white pine is one of the pine pollens that some people collect or use medicinally. The pollen is purported to have many benefits for numerous common health issues. However, as with many anecdotal claims, they have not been supported in the laboratories yet. It is important to remember that many people are allergic to pollen from trees and other plants. Don't take pine pollen products if you have pine allergies since the products may trigger allergic reactions.

According to a website called, “The Iroquois called the Eastern White Pine the Tree of Peace. The origins of its legend lie within that of a man they called Dekanawidah, the peace-giver, who helped create the Five Nations Confederacy (Kayanerenh-kowa, or ‘Great Peace’) between the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes.

As the story goes, Dekanaweidah traveled between each of these warring tribes to spread a message of peace, friendship, and unity, but was not always met with understanding. The Eastern White Pine tree was known to them as “the tree of the Great Long Leaves,” and Dekanaweidah used it as a symbol of his intentions. It was said to have four symbolic roots, the Great White Roots of Peace, which extended north, east, south and west.

Dekanaweidah planted an Eastern White Pine on the land of the Onondagas (in the present-day state of New York), and the chiefs of each tribe who agreed to be a part of the peace agreement would meet beneath its branches to talk about preserving The Great Peace. The clusters of five needles on each branch symbolize the Five Nations joined together as one.”

It is thought that Eastern White Pine forests once covered much of northeastern North America. Today only one percent of the old-growth forests remain after the extensive logging operations that existed from the 18th century into the early 20th century. The pines have found a new place to thrive along the lower loop of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

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