A white pine is an evergreen tree with slender, flexible twigs and blue-green needles that grow in bundles of five. White pines develop slender cones that are between 3 and 10 inches (7.6 to 25.4 cm) long. Each scale on the cone features two winged seeds. The white pine typically reaches 50 to 80 feet (about 15 to 24 m) at full maturity. Its branches can spread between 20 and 40 feet (about 6 to 12 m).
White pines grow primarily in northern North America in dry pine forests and mixed hardwood forests. They grow best in full sun to partial shade and prefer moist, well-drained soil. White pine trees are often found on steep hills and at the tops of ridges and cliffs. This is because these areas are usually windier, and the white pine seeds are often carried there.
These trees are important to wildlife in the forests where they grow. Birds, such as woodpeckers, mourning doves, nuthatches, and chickadees, use white pines as nesting areas and perches. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, and black bears eat the tree's seeds. Mammals, including beavers, rabbits, mice, and porcupines, feed on the bark, though this can damage the tree if too much bark is taken.
Native Americans used the inner bark of the white pine as an emergency source of food. The Iroquois mixed the sticky resin that seeps out of wounds in the white pine's trunk with beeswax to make a paste. They paste was used to seal the seams of their canoes and prevent water from leaking inside the vessels.
White pine wood was used in England during colonial times to make masts for ships. The first flag of the revolutionary forces during the Revolutionary War featured a white pine as its emblem due to the colonists' upset at the English government's broad arrow acts that reserved choice trees in the colonies for English use. Today, the white pine is the provincial tree of Ontario, Canada, and the state tree of Michigan and Maine in the United States.
Loggers began heavily harvesting the wood from this tree through the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States as settlers began to move westward. White pine wood is soft, with a color ranging from creamy white to pale golden. It is easy to carve, and the wood is often used for furniture, cabinets, interior trim, and doorframes. White pine wood is especially useful for building houses, because it does not swell or shrink with moisture changes like many other woods do. They are also grown and sold as Christmas trees.