White Pine

Pinus strobus

Herbs gallery - White Pine

Common names

  • New England Pine
  • Northern Pine
  • Pumpkin Pine
  • Soft Pine
  • White Pine

The growth of white pine in the forests of northeast America were so impenetrable several forerunners asserted that if a squirrel got up on one tree, it could travel without having to come down from the trees throughout its life. The tough, light timber was considered to be an exceptional construction material and the early settlers in North America sent large amounts of it to their homeland in Europe. However, when the then British government (crown) decreed that the tallest trees ought to be spared for making the mast wood for its navy, the colonial settlers pilfered the pine for their personal use under the cover of darkness at night. Interestingly, when the American Revolution broke out, the white pine tree was used as an insignia on the first flag of the Revolutionary army.

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For the native Indians of North America, the white pine tree was a valuable medicinal resource. They boiled an extract obtained from the inner bark that encloses some amount of tannin as an astringent and consumed the liquid to treat diarrhea. However, the native Indians primarily drenched the inner bark of the white pine in water and applied the liquid externally as a comforting plaster to heal wounds. The inner bark was also used as an important ingredient in medications to cure coughs. The inner bark of the white pine encloses substantial mucilage that works to relax the mucous membranes coating the respiratory tract and also facilitates slackening off phlegm (the coagulated mucus secreted in the respiratory passages) in order to get rid of it by coughing. The native Indians also boiled the resin or gum obtained from the white pine and administered to patients to alleviate rheumatism, while syrup prepared with the resin was used to treat colds. Early European settlers in North America were convinced by the remedial properties of the white pine and took on many of the medicinal practices of the Indians vis-à-vis the white pine.

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Parts used

Leaves, branches, stems, seeds, essential oil.

Uses

White pine trees possess numerous remedial properties. One of the major uses of the inner bark of this species is its utility as an effective expectorant. Therefore, it is common to find many cough medications containing the inner bark of white pine as a vital ingredient. Several researches have shown that the expectorant property of the inner bark helps to comfort the aggravated mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and hence, people suffering from cough and cold derive great benefits when they take medications containing the inner bark of white pine. However, presently, people generally do not use white pine as an astringent; there has been hardly any recent research on this aspect of the tree to confirm the benefits of white pine as an astringent.

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White pine trees are also valued for their light and evenly-grained timber that can be worked on without much trouble and are not tough. White pine provides timber that is soft to moderate in compactness. The color of white pine timber ranges from creamy white to light yellow at times having distinct orange colored growth rings (a layer of wood developed in a plant during a single period of growth).

The timber or soft wood obtained from white pines is used for several purposes, including making furniture, cabinets, finishing interiors, matches, wooden items and even boards. In fact, white pine yields the most useful softwood boards in the eastern regions of North America. These wooden boards are widely utilized for making door frames, window sashes, interior trim and sophisticated carpentry. They are also exceptional material for carving intricate wooden items. Among the different types of pines found worldwide, white pine wood that is light in weight, soft, homogenously surfaced and can be worked on without much difficulty and perhaps has the minimum resin content. This variety of timber does not expand or contract owing to the change in its moisture content and is extremely enduring. That this wood is durable is evident from the fact that houses built with  white pine in New England over two centuries ago, still exist. Owing to such advantageous features, white pine wood is extensively used in complex paneling with pine wood, millwork, making siding and planks for boxes, coffins, crates, wooden utensils, boats as well as novelty items. Most importantly, people in many regions grow white pine extensively for its use as Christmas trees.

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Long back, when ships used sails, the tall white pines providing superior quality timber were commonly known as mast pines. Distinguished by the agents of the British royalty during the colonial periods with broad arrow, white pine was basically set aside for the British Royal Navy.

The special vessels resembling barges built by the British that were capable of transporting as many as 50 pine trunks for making ship masts were also made with wood from white pine. In fact, the wood was cut into suitable shapes soon after the trees were felled with a view to accommodate them in a better way in the holds of the ships. It may be mentioned here that during those days, a mast measuring 100 feet in length was 3 feet X 3 feet at the base and 2 feet X 2 feet at the top. Masts measuring 120 feet in height had a huge base measuring four feet X four feet at the base and 30 inches at the top. Initially, the masts on the USS Constitution, known 'Old Ironsides' were made of a single tree, but afterward they were coated with a view to tolerate the cannon balls better. It is interesting to note that during the American Revolution, patriots took it as a sport to find out the number of lofty white pine trees, also known as 'King's trees', an individual was able to fell and carry away.

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During the colonial period, an exceptional huge and solitary white pine was found along the Black River in coastal South Carolina somewhere extreme south of the usual range. It is interesting to note that the king's emblem was carved on this specific tree from which the local town got its name - Kingstree.

These days, people extensively grow white pine as a part of their forestry plan in the species' native area. In addition, a number of cultivable varieties of white pine, including numerous dwarf types, has been grown for plantation in the gardens. These dwarf varieties of white pine are usually used as ornamental plants and their growth is generally quite sluggish. In 1620, Captain George Weymouth transported white pine species to England, where he grew the species extensively for its future timber value. However, the trees failed to thrive in England as it became susceptible to the White Pine Blister Rust disease.

In the North and South Americas, there was a great demand for the wood obtained from old growth pines, as they were usually huge and the boards prepared with them did not have bumps or knots. The pine trees were not only easy to cultivate, but also very widespread and could be felled without much effort. These were the primary reasons why numerous colonial settlers used the pine wood for making floors, furniture as well as paneling. Pine trees were also preferred by people in the business of cutting trees for its wood as the pine logs could be processed in any timber mill for making boards or planks even a year after felling the trees. Conversely, majority of the trees that yielded hardwood like maple, cherry, oak and ash ought to be sized into one inch broad boards soon after the trees are cut down. If timber of these trees is not processed immediately, they tend to develop large cracks making the wood worthless for any use.

Pine trees that are cut freshly have a creamy white to light yellowish or straw color, while trees that have matured and cut some years back have an inclination to acquire a dark and rich tan color. Sometimes, you may also come across lightweight boards prepared from pine wood having an exceptional yellowish-golden color or a reddish-brown hue. This type of boards is prepared from the wood of the well-known pumpkin pine trees. It is commonly believed that the pine species having a sluggish growth rate in virgin forests acquire tinted products in the duramen or heartwood (older, non-living central wood of a tree). In addition, it is also thought that genetic aspects as well as the soil conditions may also be responsible for imparting the rich hues to the wood.

Despite the fact that white pine wood planks were widely used for the flooring of the buildings prior to the US Civil War, as the wood from this tree is soft, it eventually results in depressions resembling cups owing to the regular wear and tear of the old fashioned pine floor. George Washington is said to be among the first to realize this shortcoming of white pine flooring and hence, was prudent in using wood of yellow pine for the flooring of Mount Vernon. Compared to the white pine, the wood of yellow pine is proved to be more tough and durable. Moreover, the yellow pine wood was also desirable to the people making different wooden patterns since it was an easy material to work on.

It may be mentioned here that compared to lemons, the amount of vitamin C enclosed by the needles of white pine trees are five times more in terms of weight. Thus, an outstanding aromatic herbal tea (tisane) may be prepared with the needles of white pine. In addition, the cambium (a layer of delicate meristematic tissue between the inner bark and the wood) of white pine is also eaten by people and is an important source of resveratrol - an amalgam present naturally in grapes, mulberries, peanuts and other plants or food products that help to protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease owing to its antioxidant, anti-mutagen and anti-inflammatory actions). It has been found that caterpillars of Lusk's Pine moth (scientific name Coloradia luski) only feed on white pine trees.

The name 'Adirondack' is an Iroquois (a Native American confederacy) term denoting tree-eater and implies to their neighbours who are commonly called the Algonquians (Native American Indians). The Algonquians gathered the inner bark of the pine trees as their food to stave of starvation during the winter months. The native Indians meticulously detached the white supple inner bark of the white pine, also known as cambial layer, from the tough, deep brown exterior bark and dried it for future use. When the dried inner bark is pulverized, it was used as a flour or combined with different starch products with a view to expand them. Way back in the 1700s, Swedish botanist Carolus (Carl) Linnaeus observed that pigs and cattle that were fed pine bark bread developed well. However, he noted that he personally did not like the flavour of the bread prepared with the inner bark of white pines. The Ojibwe Indians boiled the juvenile cones of white pine having stamens with meat and it was said that the food cooked in this manner had a sweetish flavour and not pitchy or resinous. Additionally, the seeds of white pine were also said to have a sweet flavour and considered to be nourishing. However, compared to a number of the western nut pines, the seeds of white pine were not of very high quality.

The gum or resin obtained from white pine has industrial use too. In addition to making baskets, buckets and boats that are water-resistant, the fluid extracted from pine trees may also be processed for manufacturing turpentine. It is believed that the fluid obtained from the pine trees contains several antimicrobials that are somewhat useful. The members of a large North American Indians tribe found in Canada and the US known as the Chippewa utilized the resin or sap of the pine trees to effectively heal wound that were affected with gangrene. Usually, people externally applied a soggy pulp of the inner bark of the pines to the lesions. Alternately, pine tar may be blended with beeswax or butter and used as an ointment to avoid infections. Moreover, pine tar may be combined with beer to get rid of tapeworms or flat worms and nematodes or round worms. When pine tar is mixed with sulfur, the formulation is useful to heal dandruff. To produce pine tar, you need to burn the pine roots, branches or small trunks slowly in a somewhat smothered or stifled flame.

Habitat and cultivation

White pines can grow in several diverse kinds of soil conditions, but has a preference for soils having a good drainage system. Moreover, this species also prefers cool climatic conditions and is indigenous to the eastern regions of North America. White pine also grows naturally in the regions extending from Newfoundland to Manitoba and southern to northern Georgia as well as Illinois.

Although white pine trees have a liking for cool climatic conditions and soils having a good drainage system, they are also able to grow and thrive in marshy conditions as well as mountainous regions. When white pine grows in a mixed forest, it is the most dominant tree soaring above all other types of vegetation and this includes the lofty hardwoods. White pines are beneficial for birds, as they provide them with food as well as shelter. Usually, birds like the Common Crossbill and petite mammals like squirrels are found to inhabit the white pine trees.

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