Pitch pines and table mountain pines are scrubby, picturesque trees that mostly inhabit poor, thin soil on dry, rocky ridges and slopes along the Appalachian Mountains.

But I have also seen these handsome species, here and there, in local rugged habitats: pitch pines in the Furnace Hills of northern Lancaster County and southern Lebanon County and table mountains along the Susquehanna River Hills in southern Lancaster County and southern York County.

These pines have several characteristics in common. They are both some of the first trees to sprout on burned-off or timbered woods on rocky ridges and slopes.

They need full sunlight and can sacrifice rich soil to get it, free of competition from other kinds of trees that require fertile soil. Roots of these pines help hold down the soil and enrich it with their fallen needles and bark that decay in that soil.

These pines are beautifully rustic in appearance. Both have contorted limbs and large, squat cones at 45-degree angles on their boughs.

Each scale on every cone of both species has a talon-like spike on its tip, which adds to the rugged appeal of these picturesque pines. And both types of pines have winged seeds that disperse on the wind.

Both these pine species provide food and cover for wildlife. Chickadees, finches, squirrels, and mice ingest many of their seeds. And squirrels and certain kinds of birds shelter among their needled branches.

Pitch pines inhabit wooded mountains from Maine to western North Carolina. They are also the primary tree in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Pitch pines have gnarled, drooping limbs, laden with fat cones. They have needles in bundles of three, the only pine in eastern North America that does. And older trees have scraggly crowns that are part of their rustic appeal.

Table mountain pines mostly live in the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to southwestern North Carolina. They have short trunks and long, horizontal boughs; long, twisted needles in bundles of two; and massive cones, all of which add to their rugged look.

Though small, uncommon, and mostly unknown, pitch pines and table mountain pines are, never the less, appealingly rustic. They live in rocky habitats of poor, thin soil where few other trees can. And they are beneficial to wildlife.

Overall, they are interesting trees to experience. But even if the reader never does see them, it’s still intriguing to know they exist. 


Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.

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