Pinus echinata, the Shortleaf Pine

Pinus echinata, the Shortleaf pine, is another common pine tree in the Piedmont. They are very similar to Loblolly pines. Both trees are tall, thin and have no branches on the lower part of the tree. The easiest way to discern between the two is to find a cone, but this can be annoying if a tree of each species is next to each other, what with the cones falling and rolling about. Anyway, here’s three ways to differentiate between the two:

1. Shortleaf pines have smaller cones than Loblollies and are not spiky. You could throw them at somebody and it would be just annoying, but no blood would be involved. Loblolly tossing will get you cussed at.

Short leaf 2
This bark will hide nothing. Maybe some small bugs. Also it appears to have zits.

2. Shortleaf bark sometimes has these cool little zit like bodies called pitch pockets. But not always. Sometimes they will ooze.  But not always. It is also thinner. You cannot hide a the end of your finger in it. Loblolly bark is thick and corky, and doesn’t have any acne issues.

3. Shortleaf (two syllables) has two needles bundled together. Loblolly (three syllables) has three needles bundled together.

Now you’re good as long as the forest is only allowed to have two species of tree.

“Pinus echinata.” Encyclopedia of Life, available from Accessed January 18, 2016.

Pinus taeda, the Loblolly Pine

Loblolly 1

Pinus taeda, the Loblolly pine, is probably the most common tree in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. (Okay, found a note saying that it “accounts for over one-half of the standing pine volume” which sounds pretty damn common.) Or if not the most common, at least it is damn common. They are large trees, getting well over 100 ft tall, but sort of skinny. They’re “self-pruning”, meaning they drop their lower branches as needed. So the trunk is nice and clean looking, with a poof of needly branches at the top above the roof of a two story building.

Loblolly 3
The bark is as thick as the end of your finger, dependent upon finger size.

The cones are really spiky, oblong and about the size of an orange. It is the most painful cone to pick up locally.

The needles come bundled in threes and are a little longer than the cones.

The bark is dark and sort of reddish, and broken into scales larger than your hand. Unless you have really big hands.

Loblolly 2

And there you go.


“Pinus taeda.” Encyclopedia of Life, available from

Know your Pines

Couldn’t find a virginia pine.

There are five pines you may encounter in the Piedmont. Just ignore everything you buy from the garden center, we’re talking about out in the woods. Two are very common, three less so, but one of the three less common ones gets people REAL excited. So useful to know all five.

First, what’s a pine tree? You’re reading a natural history blog, so you probably already know that pines are evergreen conifers: they have pine cones (duh), and needles that don’t drop in the winter. But there are a few other trees (firs, spruce, sequoia….) that also have needles and cones. So you need more than just “cones and needles”.

The big trick is to look for fascicles. Pine trees group their needles, wrapping them around the base with a papery covering called a fascicle. Find the fascicles, and you’ve got a pine.

Fascicle of loblolly pine
See the little bundly bit below the needles?

So what are the five pines we’re going to try and figure out?

Pinus taeda, the Loblolly Pine,

Pinus echinata, the Shortleaf Pine,

Pinus palustris, the Longleaf, Pine,

Pinus strobus, the Eastern White Pine,


Pinus virginiana, the Virginia Pine.