- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Pitch, scrub, and table mountain pines are relatively small, picturesque kinds of pine trees adapted and native to the dry, poor, worn-out, or rocky soils of southeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the eastern part of the United States.
All these pine species are rugged looking in their rough habitats. They all have irregular crowns, rough bark, and mostly gnarled limbs, with squat cones on those branches and twisted needles.
Each scale on their cones has a sharp prickle. The cones of these pines persist on their limbs for years. And those same cones produce winged seeds that are dispersed on the wind because of the flat wing on each seed.
Owls, hawks, and a variety of small birds roost in some of these pines, and mice and certain seed-eating birds, including red-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, and others, consume some of their seeds.
By living in poor, rocky ground, these pines experience reduced competition from other kinds of trees and plants for sunlight, living space, and rainfall. And the roots of these rustic pines help hold down the soil against erosion and enrich it by the decaying of their bark, wood, and needles.
None of these rugged pines is planted regularly on lawns, if at all, nor are white pines, Norway spruces, and other types of conifers. But pitch, scrub, and table mountain pines are attractive in their own rustic ways, in their respective natural habitats.
Pitch pine’s range is mostly in the northeastern United States. It is the only native pine that has needles in bundles of three. This species grows frequently as scattered individuals in deciduous woods, such as in the Furnace Hills of northern Lancaster County and southern Lebanon County.
Scrub pines have two needles in a bundle. In some places, this species forms pure stands of itself on poor, stony ground, such as in the pine barrens of southern Lancaster County. Scrub pines range from Pennsylvania to Alabama.
Table mountain pines inhabit southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey and into the South, mostly along the Appalachian Mountains. This type of pine grows singly on the rocky, wooded slopes of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and York counties.
And this pine has a relatively short trunk; long, horizontal limbs; massive cones; and dull-purple needle and flower buds, all of which add to its rugged beauty.
These wild pines are attractive and interesting in their rustic ways. They add to the beauty of their respective habitats and enrich their soils. And they provide food and shelter to a variety of wildlife.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.