The state of Texas has a variety of pine trees growing within its borders, many of which can exist in different kinds of soil conditions. Texas pines are often recognizable from the length of their needles and the size of their pine cones. In the past, Texas pine species like the longleaf pine were important to industry; people would burn the tree and then boil the resulting pitch to produce such products as tar and turpentine. In addition to the longleaf pine, the shortleaf pine and the loblolly pine are also native to parts of Texas.
The needles of a longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) can reach 18 inches long, and the cones may attain lengths of 10 inches, easily the longest in both categories of the Texas pines. The longleaf pine has an odd growth pattern, as it will not develop any semblance of a trunk for as long as its first 15 years. Instead, the species undergoes what the Floridata website describes as a “grass stage," working on extending its taproot deep into the ground and expanding its system of roots. You would think the tree was some species of grass if you encountered it during this part of its life. However, longleaf pine, once it begins to grow, can shoot up 5 feet in that initial year. At one time, huge stands of these trees existed throughout the South, including Texas, with many in the range of 125 feet tall, but over-harvesting depleted the longleaf pines. The longleaf pine lacks branches for much of its entire length, with the only limbs near the very top of the tree. Longleaf pine will grow in dry, sandy soils and in soil that is wet for much of the growing season. This slow grower takes as long as 125 years to reach its maximum potential.
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) goes by the names North Carolina pine, Arkansas pine and Oldfield pine, and is a prominent pine species in Texas. Loblolly pine grows in abundance in East Texas, and the tree is the pine that grows the quickest of the pine species in the Lone Star State. Loblolly pine grows to heights of 80 to 100 feet according to the “National Audubon Field Guide to Trees,” and the tree is a major source of timber in the state. Loblolly pine features 5-to-9 inch needles that grow three in a bundle on the branches. The needles are stiff and green, and the brown pine cones can reach 5 inches in length. Loblolly pine is an important tree for controlling erosion, and makes a good barrier species against wind and excess noise. Loblolly pine grows best in full sun, and can readily acclimate to a variety of soil types. In the wild, it often grows with shortleaf pines or various types of hardwood trees.
Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is an eastern Texas pine that exists in the state’s upland forests, in fields and on the hillsides of what Texans refer to as the Texas Pineywoods. Shortleaf pine can withstand cold weather better than any other type of southern pine tree, and because the tree grows an extended taproot, it stands up to the winds that can howl across the state. In a natural setting, shortleaf pine can reach heights of 100 feet, according to the Texas Native Plants Database website. The greenish to blue-green needles bend easily and are from 2 to 5 inches long, growing two or three in a bundle. The cones rarely exceed 2 1/2 inches in length. Shortleaf pine does not tolerate the shade well, but can grow in the shade if few other trees compete with it for nutrients in the soil. The Forest and Range website reports that lumberman frequently used the long taproot for pulpwood, and the upper part of the tree for timber.