Outside of the upper Midwest, the Norway pine (Pinus resinosa) is more commonly called the American red pine. The state tree of Minnesota, the colloquial name Norway pine is likely derived from the large number of Scandinavian immigrants to the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. The dense needles across the branches on young trees supposedly reminded timber-cutting immigrants of the forests of Norway.
The Norway or American red pine is native to east-central North America. The tree naturally inhabits the acidic, sandy soils of the northern forest, from Winnipeg, Manitoba eastward to Newfoundland and south to eastern Iowa and northern Pennsylvania. At one time, the Norway pine was an important timber tree across the Great Lakes region, fueling industrialization and settlement in the 19th century.
Size and Habit
The Norway pine is a cone-bearing evergreen tree, more accurately referred to as a conifer, that matures 50 to 110 feet tall. The spread of the canopy varies greatly. In dense forests where overcrowding occurs and trees reach upward for light, the Norway pine canopy may be only 10 to 20 feet wide. If grown in an open field or garden, the tree becomes much broader and fuller, perhaps 50 to 70 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. When young, the tree is a dense and upright oval, but as it ages and grows taller, the branching silhouette opens in the upright oval canopy.
The 5- to 6-inch long, medium-green needles occur in bundles of two on the branch tips. When you bend the brittle needles, they readily snap and break. On younger trees, the bark is scaly and orange-red, the reason this species is referred to as the American red pine. As the tree gets bigger, the bark breaks away in large, scaly plates with a tan-brown color, although hints of orange-red hues still exist. Female cones take two years to mature on the upper branches. They are sienna to golden brown and hang downward on branches.
American woody plant expert Michael Dirr considers the Norway pine aesthetically inferior to many other pines for use in gardens. However, this pine is excellent for use in groves or windbreaks in cold-winter regions. Grow the tree in full to partial sun in any acidic- to neutral-pH soil that is moderately to slightly fertile and well-drained. Sandy and gravelly loam soils are excellent. The pine is tolerant of cold in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 5b.