Yellow pine is a coniferous evergreen tree, native to the forests of northeastern United States. Its scientific name Pinus rigida, means rigid, referring to the stiff pine cone scales and needles. Also, it produces pine pitch, a sticky, resinous sap that oozes from the tree, especially from wounds; hence its alternate name, the pitch pine. During the time of wooden ships, it was used in the production of heavy sailing vessels.
The leaves of yellow pine trees are long, thin evergreen needles that range from 3 to 5 inches long. The needles tend to twist slightly and grow in sets of three. The color is green to yellowish-green. The plant has male and female flowers. The male flowers produce pollen only and form in large yellow clusters at the tips of branches. The female flowers develop into prickly, ovoid cones between 2 and 4 inches long with alternating scales radiating from a central stem. Each scale holds a seed. The bark is grayish-brown, and forms plates that will flake from the tree. The wood has a yellowish look. which is the source of the name yellow pine.
Yellow pine growd well in hardiness zone 4 in northeastern forests. The tree is slow-growing when young, then faster-growing as it matures, adding more that 2 feet per year of new growth in good conditions. The trunk is usually tall, slender and straight, with branches radiating from it toward the top of the tree. Lower branches tend to die as the tree matures, leaving the bottom half of the trunk bare. The pine cones are often persistent and can remain on the tree for years.
The form of the tree can vary. In poor conditions, the tree may be stunted and poorly formed. The tall upright character of the tree is more typical and it can grow to 90 fee tall and to 50 feet wide in optimal conditions. The shape is a tall pyramid on top of a tall, slender post-like trunk. The canopy is open and airy.
Yellow pine is usually found in moister, more humid forest environments, although it does grow in areas where drier conditions prevail. It is commonly found in less fertile and shallow soils, including sandy or gravelly soils. It also prefers more acidic soils. The tree may be difficult to cultivate and should be propagated from seedlings.
As a timber tree, yellow pine is generally very knotty and inferior to other pines and is more frequently used for framing lumber, railroad ties, crates and fencing. It can also serve as a source of pulpwood. Yellow pine also serves as food for wildlife. The seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals and white-tailed deer and rabbit browse on the young leaves and seedlings.