Pine Trees: Christmas and Beyond

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 11:58:28 AM America/Los_Angeles

Though pines are just one of the huge variety of evergreen conifers in existence, they’re probably the most familiar to us as the Christmas tree. Pine trees are emblematic of the holidays and have served as Christmas trees as far back as the 16th century. But there’s more to the majestic pine beyond their role as the celebrated Christmas tree. 

Photo by Erik Odiin

For starters, one of the most basic pine tree facts is that they are one of the most common trees with 126 different species growing across primarily the northern hemisphere. It’s also one of the oldest types of conifers (trees with cone-bearing properties), dating back roughly 200 million years. They’re noted for their longevity and generally live 100-1,000 years. But that’s just for the average pine tree. The oldest pine tree living today is estimated to be 4,600 years old! It is a Great Basin bristlecone pine located in the White Mountains of California. 

Other defining characteristics of pine trees are, of course, their leaves and cones. Unlike many other types of trees, pine trees have needles that grow in clusters. This prickly foliage is better suited for colder climates than flat leaves: Needles can survive ice and cold, and they can withstand wind better, thus making trees less likely to topple over during storms. 

Pine cones, often used for decorative purposes during the holidays, are actually protective “pods” that surround the seeds of the pine tree. Most of the time, we see “open” cones with individual scales. Other times, they look like solid objects with no openings. What you’re actually observing is the pine tree in a closed state to protect the seeds from environmental dangers such as storms and animals. Cones open when the weather is warmer and germination is more likely. As the reproductive organ of the pine tree, cones can be either male or female. The smaller male cones open to release pollen, which germinates the larger female cones. 

Pine trees, however, aren’t just for the holidays. Pine trees are harvested for their versatile lumber and also produce the nutritious pine nut. Pine wood is widely used in construction and the lumber is frequently utilized for flooring, furniture, windows, and more. Some pines produce a resin that is used for turpentine. 

Their multiple uses reveal that there’s much more to the pine tree than just being a part of our holiday festivities. Pine trees make up the very things we need to live our day to day lives!


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