Snow is still falling and our pines are carrying a heavy burden of white on their strong limbs. Wildlife finds a great shelter from the storm and a tasty treat.
Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Ontario’s provincial tree was highly valuable as a tall, straight growing tree, frequently used for masts in ship construction during European settlement in Canada. Unfortunately the giants of those days are now harvested and gone, but when given the chance, White Pine will continue to grow over 40 metres tall, and is the tallest growing tree in our region. Mature trees usually live to around 250 years old, but some individuals have been aged to over 400 years.
The delightfully soft needles grow in bunches of five. The seeds are eaten by different birds and small mammals, the soft branches provide good shelter, and deer like to forage on the soft leaves. Indigenous communities valued the White Pine for its medicinal uses and as a source of emergency food, and the resin provides a waterproofing seal. White Pines are often planted in restoration projects, but they can be sensitive to road salt and urban soil pollution.
Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)
The firm needles grow in pairs and snap crisply when bent – a handy identifier to help distinguish Red Pine from Austrian or Scots Pines. As the name suggests, the thick, plated bark has an orangey-red colour. Pinus resinosa is also known as Norway Pine, despite being native here.
It is a strong wood and can tolerate heavy winds because of its deep root system, which also makes it a useful tree for erosion and stormwater control. The wood is often used for telephone poles. Various wildlife also enjoy the seeds and cover Red Pine provides.
In Hamilton, we most often see mature Scots and Austrian Pines, which were once valued for their urban hardiness and road salt tolerance. We definitely prefer to see native trees being planted, especially when non-natives like Scots Pine are invasive!