Pine trees provide evergreen windbreaks, green landscapes in winter, and decorative boughs for holiday-season swags. The smell of pine wood burning in a fireplace is soothing and rustic. Pines produce wood for lumber and some varieties produce delicious nuts. There are about 120 species of pines that will give you pause and awe.
The botanical genus name for pine, "Pinus" is the Roman name for pine. Although called "pine" in English, the genus has many other names across the world: in Spanish and Italian, it's "pino"; "pinheiro" in Portugese; "pijn" in Dutch, "Kiefer" in German, "pin" in French, "fyr" in Norwegian and Finnish, "peuke" in Greek, and "sosna" in Russian. In Asia, terms for pine include "çam" in Turkish, "chir" in Hindi, "thong" in Vietnamese, "matsu" in Japanese and "song shu" in Chinese.
Pine trees are native only to the Northern Hemisphere. They grow in Africa and South America but only in areas of those continents north of the equator. The southernmost occurring pine species is the Sumatran pine (Pinus merkusii), native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, according to The Gymnosperm Database website.
All pines are grouped in the genus Pinus, but further broken down into two subgenera that are rarely discussed by non-botanisits. The hard pines, subgenus Pinus, have two vascular bundles per needle and stomata evenly disributed all over the needle leaf. The soft or "white" pines, subgenus Strobus, have only one vascular bundle in a needle and stomata occur on the inner sides of needles. This is just one of many differences between the subgenera.
Oldest Growing Types
The oldest growing pine species is Pinus longaeva, which can reach more than 4,000 years in age. Ages of more than 1,000 years have been encountered in these pines species, all native to western North America: Pinus albicaulis, Pinus aristata, Pinus balfouriana, Pinus flexilis, and Pinus longaeva. The pine species from the Old World that grows the oldest most likely is Pinus heldreichii, variation "leucodermis," with a specimen having a confirmed age of 963 years, according to The Gymnosperm Database. Because pines naturally grow in very cold and dry environments where disease and human interaction are rare, pines are collectively the most long-lived of conifers.
In addition to supplying wood for construction, pine trees supply other uses for man. The sticky, yellow secretion of pines, called "resin," yields both turpentine oil and rosin. Turpentine oil is added to paints and varnishes and to polish leather shoes, and is used in some medicinal treatments for spasms and for creating anti-pathogen environements. Rosin is made by distilling resin, and is a rather hard substance used in making paper glue, varnishes and paints, to coat musical instrument bows, and in soap-making.