13 Most Common North American Pine Species

Common North American Trees in the Pine Family - Pinaceae

Pinetree
anne arnould / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

A pine is a coniferous tree in the genus Pinus, in the family Pinaceae. There are about 115 species of pines worldwide, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species. Pines are native to most of the Northern Hemisphere.

Pines are evergreen and resinous trees (rarely shrubs). The smallest pine is Siberian Dwarf Pine and Potosi Pinyon, and the tallest pine is Sugar Pine.

Pines are among the most plentiful and commercially important of tree species, valued for their timber and wood pulp throughout the world.

In temperate and semi-tropical regions, pines are fast-growing softwoods that will grow in relatively dense stands, their acidic decaying needles inhibiting the sprouting of competing hardwoods. They are often grown in plantation managed forests for both lumber and paper.

The Common North American Pines

There are actually 36 major species of native pines in North America. They are the most ubiquitous conifer in the United States, easily recognized by most people and very successful in maintaining solid and valuable stands.

Pines are especially widespread and predominant in the Southeast and on drier sites in the Western mountains. Here are the most common and valuable pines that are native to the United States and Canada.

Major Characteristics of the Pines

The Leaves:  All of these common pines have needles in bundles of between 2 and 5 needles and wrapped (sheathed) together with paper-thin scales that attach to the twig.

The needles in these bundles become the tree's "leaf" that persists for two years before dropping as the tree continues to grow new needles every year. Even as the needles are dropping bi-annually the pine maintains its evergreen appearance. 

The Cones:  Pines have two types of cones - one to produce pollen and one to develop and drop seeds. The smaller "pollen" cones are attached to new shoots and produce a massive amount of pollen every year. The larger woody cones are seed-bearing cones and mostly attached to limbs on short stalks or stalkless "sessile" attachments.

Pine cones usually mature in the second year, dropping a winged seed from between each cone scale. Depending on the species of pine, empty cones may drop off immediately after seed fall or hang on for several years or many years. Some pines have "fire cones" that only open after the heat from a wildland or prescribed fire releases the seed.

Bark and Limbs: A pine species with smooth bark generally grows in an environment where fire is limited. Pine species that have adapted to a fire ecosystem will have scaly and furrowed bark. A conifer, when seen with tufted needles on stout limbs is confirmation that the tree is in the genus Pinus.