Florida’s seven native pine trees are tall, single-trunked evergreen trees. Their needle-like leaves photosynthesize year-round. Pines have no flowers or fruit, but have male and female stribili. Female strobli develop naked seeds in cones. Globally, there are 126 pine species.
Slash Pine, Pinus elliotii, likely the most widely planted pine in Florida, grows to 130 feet tall; has large, flat bark plates and large “brushes” of needles, 5 to 11 inches long in fascicle bundles of two and three. Oval cones are 3 1/2 to 6 inches long. Slash pine is extensively planted for wood, pulp and paper and mulch.
Longleaf Pine, Pinus palustris, once the dominant southern yellow pine, is currently Florida’s second most common naturally growing pine. Growing 130 feet and higher, Longleaf is the longest-lived Florida pine. Longleafs have a tall, straight trunk with thick, scaly bark. The glossy needles are 6 to 12 inches long, in fascicles of three in clusters at branch tips. Large cones, 6 to 10 inches long, and silver-white terminal buds in the spring are distinctive. Longleaf seedlings remain in the juvenile “grass stage” for usually five to seven years while developing a deep tap root and energy stores. Longleaf ranges throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain.
Lobolly Pine, Pinus taeda, can grow up to 110 feet, with 3 to 9 inch needles in fascicles of three (rarely two or four). Lobolly’s crown branches spread out and have a drooping look. Seed cones, 2 1/2 to 4 inches long, may remain on the tree for up to three years. Loblolly is the fastest-growing southern pine. Genetically improved Loblolly Pines are now planted extensively for timber in the northern half of Florida and other southeastern states.
Sand Pine, Pinus clausa, grows up to 82 feet tall. Endemic Ocala Sand Pine grows in Central Florida and Choctawatchee Sand Pine in Northwest Florida. Needles and mature cones are 2 to 3 inches long and bark is smooth gray. Sand Pine trunk and branches are often twisted and leaning. Found in deep, dry, sandy soils, Sand Pines have shallow, spreading roots so frequently lean and may uproot in strong winds.
Spruce Pine, Pinus glabra, grows 90 to 130 feet tall and has short needles, 2 to 4 inches long, in fascicles of two. It has grayish bark and clusters of small cones 2 to 4 inches long. Spruce pines have yellow male strobili at the tips of their branches in the spring. Found in moist woodlands, hardwood hammocks and along stream banks, young Spruce Pines are shade-tolerant.
Shortleaf Pine, Pinus echinata, is found only in extreme northern Florida mixed in hardwood stands. Growing up to 100 feet, Shortleaf Pine’s bark is distinctive with flat, broad, red-brown rectangular plates. The native tree’s needles are yellow-green, 2 to 5 inches long and grow in bunches of two to three. Its cones are about 2 inches long and make good holiday decorations.
Pond Pine, Pinus serotina, is a small pine with a twisted or bent trunk and short branches ranging from West Florida to south Central Florida. A key to identification is tufts of needles and twigs, called epicormic buds, growing on the tree trunk and at the base after a fire. Needles are 4 to 8 inches long and grow in fascicles of three or four. Small top-shaped seed cones may persist for eight years and may wait for fire to release their seeds.
Pines are attractive and useful as landscape trees, commercial timber, pulp, paper and are an important part of natural ecosystems.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 352-249-6899.