13 Common Types of Pine Trees (Species) & How to Identify
Pine trees are very common in North America, but there are so many kinds that they’re hard to differentiate. There are over 100 species of pine trees, and lots of them look very similar.
Whether you live somewhere that has lots of pine trees or you’re interested in planting a pine on your property, you’ll need to know which pine tree species you’re looking at. Also, lots of live Christmas trees are pine trees, so you can know what kind of tree you’re putting presents under!
Common Characteristics of Pine Trees
Many pine trees have lots of things in common. From bristlecone pines, Virginia pines, black pines, and longleaf pines, most pine trees have pine cones. There are two kinds of pine cones: cones that pollinate and cones that drop seeds.
The pine cones that make pollen are the smaller of the two, and they contribute to lots of the pollen that’s made every year. The seed cones are larger than the pollen cones. Pine trees have pine needles that combine in groups between two and five to make leaves.
These trees grow new needles every year, so the needle clusters drop after roughly a year. Pine trees are evergreen trees, so they keep their dark green color all year long. Many pine trees have red-brown bark that is made of softwood. Pine is a conifer from the genus Pinus and the family Pinaceae.
1. Western White Pine Tree (aka Pinus monticola)
This type of pine tree can grow up to 100 feet tall with a straight trunk. It makes twigs that are very small and skinny, and there are five needles to every fascicle. Its needles are blue-green in color, and they live on the tree for about three and a half to four years.
The cones this tree produces are both pollen and seed cones. It can be very hard to tell the difference between this pine and the Eastern White Pine tree. However, the needles of the Western White Pine are stiffer than the needles on the other.
Also, the pine cones on this tree are bigger than the pine cones on the other tree. Landscaping is a common use for this type of pine tree. The hardiness zone this tree belongs to is zone three. The tree is native to several different regions.
It’s from the northern Rocky Mountains, Central California, Montana, British Columbia, and the Sierra Nevada. However, it can be planted in many different places due to its hardiness level.
2. Eastern White Pine Tree (aka Pinus strobus)
The Eastern White Pine has lots of different cultivars, including Nana, Macopin, Sea Urchin, Torulosa, Pendula, Alba, and Fastigiata. The needles of this tree come in fascicles of five, and they can grow as long as 13 centimeters. The cylindrical cones that this tree produces are resinous, are pointier at the tip, and are light brown in color.
This tree needs full sun exposure or partial shade to thrive. It needs very fertile and moist soil to grow well, but it can grow in all kinds of soil. The dead, fallen leaves of this tree make the soil very acidic, so it’s hard for other plants to grow around this tree.
Eastern White Pines have a hardiness zone of three. They’re originally from Newfoundland and Manitoba. They were also native to Georgia, Iowa, and everywhere in between.
3. Red Pine Tree (aka Pinus resinosa)
The Red Pine tree is a coniferous evergreen that has red-brown bark. It’s quite short, only growing between 25 and 50 feet, and its branches sprout from the bottom of the trunk to the top. The bark on this pine has fissures, and it’s scaly instead of flaky.
The fascicles come with two needles that are very flexible and grow to be about 15 centimeters long. It grows seed cones that are a deep brown color and fall in the third year of the tree’s life. The botanical name Pinus resinosa comes from the Latin word resinous, and it was named this because the tree contains resin.
It’s from Manitoba and Newfoundland. It’s also from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. It needs sun exposure ranging from full sunlight to partial shade. It belongs in hardiness zone three. When a pine cone first buds on this species of pine tree, it’s roughly the size of a quarter.
4. Austrian Pine Tree (aka Pinus nigra)
The regular size of this tree is between 50 and 60 feet, but it can grow up to 100 feet. The branches sprout fairly close to the bottom of the trunk, and the bark is extremely dark brown. The tree also has buds that are very resinous, and the needles come in groups of two.
The needles last on the tree for about four to eight years. The pine cones for this tree are light brown and can grow up to eight centimeters long. This tree is in hardiness zone four, and it’s only native to southern Europe, Asia Minor, and northwest Africa.
It needs full sun exposure and moist soil. However, this pine tree is very adaptable to other kinds of soil, so it’s not a problem if you don’t have access to that. The Austrian Pine tree comes in several different varieties for landscaping, which include variegated, upright, compact, shrub, and golden-yellow.
5. Ponderosa Pine Tree (aka Pinus ponderosa)
The Ponderosa Pine tree, or the Western Yellow Pine tree, has almost black bark and can grow up to 100 feet tall. The bark has a scaly look to it, and the needles are bundled in either twos or threes. The pine cones have an egg shape, and they usually grow to be about 15 centimeters long.
This type of pine tree is in hardiness zone three, and it’s native to several different areas. It’s from an area that spreads from British Columbia to Mexico, and it’s from another area from Texas to South Dakota. It’s also native to some areas of Oregon.
It needs soil that is moist, drains well, and neutral. This tree is drought-tolerant, so don’t worry if where you live is going through a drought because this pine tree should last through it.
6. Pitch Pine Tree (aka Pinus rigida)
This evergreen grows to be about 70 feet tall, and it has an irregular trunk shape. The bark of this tree is dark brown and scaly, and the bark will turn black once fully mature. The branches are really twisted, and the needles of this tree form in fascicles of three.
The needles are dark green once fully mature, and the pine cones grow in groups of three to five. Also, this tree is resinous like several other kinds of pine trees. The Pitch Pine needs full sunlight exposure and acidic soil. It’s native to many states in the USA, including Maine, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia.
In terms of landscaping, this tree is usually dwarfed to be used on sites. Another fun fact is that this tree is resistant to fire.
7. Lodgepole Pine Tree (aka Pinus contorta)
Another common name of this pine tree is the shore pine, and it’s fairly small compared to the other pine trees, only reaching about 80 feet tall once fully mature. There are two green needles per fascicle, and they grow to about eight centimeters long.
The pine cones of this tree are seed cones, and they only fall off the tree after the seed does. There are four different subspecies to this pine tree: Shore Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Sierra Lodgepole Pine, and Mendocino White Plains Lodgepole Pine.
The Shore Pine tree is from the coast of the Pacific ocean, ranging from Alaska to northern California. The Lodgepole Pine tree is from southern Alaska to Mexico and South Dakota. This is one of the most widely distributed pine trees in North America.
The Sierra Lodgepole Pine tree has needles that are a little bit wider than the other types in this subspecies. It’s from the Sierra Nevada and the Klamath Mountains. The final subspecies of Pinus contorta is called Mendocino White Plains Lodgepole Pine, and it’s from Mendocino County. It’s one of the only kinds of pine trees that can grow in white sand.
8. Sugar Pine Tree (aka Pinus lambertiana)
This is the tallest species of pine tree at about 200 feet tall! For most of the length of the straight trunk, the branches are scattered. The tree’s bark varies in color depending on how old the tree is. There are five needles per fascicle, and they grow to be about 10 centimeters long.
The pine cones are massive; they can grow to be about 46 centimeters long! The sun exposure this tree needs is between full sunlight and light shade. It’s from hardiness zone six, and it’s from several different regions surrounding California and Oregon.
It’s native to the Cascade Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains, western Nevada, and Baja California. It’s named after botanist Aylmer B. Lambert.
9. Mountain Pine Tree (aka Pinus mugo)
The more common name for this tree is Mugo Pine, but it can also be called Mountain Pine. This type of pine tree is very small, and it’s usually wider than it is tall. Its needles grow in pairs, and the branches of the tree begin to sprout at the bottom of the trunk.
The cones of this tree are pollen cones, and they grow to be about five centimeters long. This tree belongs to hardiness zone two, and it’s from the Alps and the Balkans. It’s mostly from the mountainous part of Europe. There are several dwarf species of this tree.
These include Mini Mini, Oregon Jade, Golden Mound, and Mitsch Mini. These are really popular for landscaping purposes.
10. Scots Pine Tree (aka Pinus sylvestris)
Also called the Scotch Pine, this tree is very irregular in shape and grows to be about 60 feet tall. The bark on this tree is more orange than brown, and it’s very flaky. There are only two needles per bundle; they are blue-green in color and about eight centimeters long.
The cones on this tree are asymmetrical in shape, have short stalks, and they are the same length as the leaves. This type of pine tree was one of the first pine trees to come to North America, and it’s been in New England for so long that it’s become naturalized there.
It’s the only pine tree that’s native to the UK, coming from Scotland and Norway. It’s been distributed to Spain, Siberia, and western Asia. Scots Pine trees can grow on many kinds of soil, so don’t worry about what kind you have available.
Although, it grows better in acidic soil. The main thing to focus on when it comes to soil is to make sure that the soil drains very well. Scots Pine trees grow differently in the United States and Europe. In Europe, the tree grows very straight and has very quality wood. In the United States, it’s hardly ever straight and has very poor wood quality.
11. Slash Pine Tree (aka Pinus elliottii)
Sometimes referred to as the Swamp Pine, this tree’s branches don’t begin until a good length up the trunk of the tree. The bark color ranges from gray to orange-brown, and needles can be bundled in groups of two or three. The needles are very stiff and dark green.
The cones on this tree retain a cone shape, and they are a shiny red-brown color. There is another type of this tree that grows in South Florida, and it differs from the regular only slightly. The wood on this tree is heavier and harder, and that’s the only real difference.
This type is called Pinus elliottii variety densa, and it’s not planted commercially like the other Pinus elliottii. This pine tree is native to the Florida Keys, southern South Carolina, and southeastern Louisiana. The main area that this tree is from is the southwestern United States. It’s from hardiness zone eight, and it was named for South Carolinian botanist Stephen Elliott.
12. Loblolly Pine Tree (aka Pinus taeda)
The Loblolly Pine tree can grow to a height of 90 feet tall. The needles grow in groups of three, and they’re very slender and dark green. The pine cones of this tree grow in pairs, and they are brown in color. The tree looks almost like an oval because the branches don’t begin to sprout until a good length up the trunk.
This pine tree is native to New Jersey all the way down to Florida and some parts of Texas. It belongs to hardiness zone six, and it requires full sun exposure. The soil you plant the Loblolly Pine in should be acidic, moist, and well-draining. It’s not drought-tolerant, so it needs some form of moisture.
13. Jack Pine Tree (aka Pinus banksiana)
Also called the Scrub Pine, this tree is the shortest of the pine trees at 50 feet tall. The bark of this tree is flaky, but that’s not strange with pine trees. The needle clusters on this pine species only have two needles each, and the needles have very sharp tips.
The needles are between dark green and yellow-green. The cones on these trees are seed cones, and they fall off the tree between 10 and 20 years. This tree doesn’t look like many other trees in the species. This pine tree is from a couple of different places.
It’s native to a region that spreads from the Arctic Circle to New York. It’s actually the most northern native pine tree that there is. It’s been distributed all across Canada, and it’s the territorial tree of the Northwest Territory of Canada.
This pine tree is from USDA hardiness zone two, and it grows best in sandy soils. The soil should be acidic, but it’s fine if it isn’t. The tree can adapt to very bad soils to grow in more places than other pine trees. It needs full sunlight exposure. The common name Jack Pine comes from a well-known botanist Aylmer B. Lambert.