The shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is a native tree in some 21 states in the southeastern portions of the United States, notes the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees.” Generally of little ornamental value, the shortleaf pine’s importance is to the lumber and pulpwood industries. Shortleaf pine grows under many different conditions, with the tree possessing the largest range of any of the pines in the Southeast, according to the National Forest Service.
A shortleaf pine has the ability to grow quite large, as the Missouri Botanical Gardens site declares that specimens in the 140-foot tall range are under documentation. The average height of this tree is much smaller though, with the cultivated pines for lumber and pulpwood in the 50- to 60-foot high range and wild shortleaf pines often approaching 100 feet. The trunk diameter of the largest specimens easily exceeds 3 feet.
Needles and Cones
The needles on a shortleaf pine tree are thin and flexible. The needles are evergreen and occur in bundles of twos, with bundles of threes appearing on occasion. The needles are anywhere from 2.75 to 4.5 inches in length. Their color is a dark bluish-green tint. The scientific name “echinata” translates into prickly, but this refers to the scales on the tree’s pinecones and not to the needles. The cones are up to 2.5 inches long and have a cylindrical look, with the brown cones not developing until the pine is at least 20 years old.
Shortleaf Growing Conditions
You will have little trouble growing a shortleaf pine, even in dry soils. Put a shortleaf pine in full sun where the ground drains well and it will establish itself. The species can survive in a lightly shades location. Although this pine grows best in sandy loam, it can grow in other types of soils. Give up any ideas of finding an established shortleaf pine in the wild and digging it up for your home; these trees have a very deep taproot that prevents you from doing so.
Health Threats of Shortleaf
The taproot of the shortleaf pine helps it to stand firm in the face of heavy winds. However, ice storms are another matter, as this tree will feel the effects of such weather. Ice forming on the branches can snap off several limbs. There are some significant insect pests of the shortleaf pine, with the Nantucket pine moth’s larvae and those of the redheaded pine sawfly among the worst. Root rot and an ailment known as littleleaf disease, which affects the needles, are the two biggest threats to shortleaf pine among diseases.