Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida), Branches, Foliage, and Cones, Cape Cod

Photo of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

A messy tangle of pine branches, needles, and open cones retained on a live tree with a scrubby growth habit

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Taken on Jul. 29, 2022

This photo shows a closeup of the canopy of a pitch pine growing at the Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown, Massachussets, near the Province Lands Visitor Center.

The key characteristic to note in this photo is the retention of numerous seed cones. Pitch pine is distinguished from a number of other similar pines by the fact that it tends to retain cones on the tree for years, often even after they have opened. Many cones however do not open until either fire or a long hot, dry spell.

The habitat here, growing in nutrient-poor sandy soil, in conditions too harsh for most other trees, such that it has little competition for sunlight from other species, is typical of the habitat this species prefers. Coastal barrier islands and other coastal pine barrens where coarse sands are deposited by the motion of ocean waves are only one of many such habitats. It also occurs farther inland on coarse sands of glacial origin, or relic sand dunes of glacial lakes, as well as on rock outcroppings in more mountainous areas.

Photographer & Copyright

© Brooke Smith

Photo Source

CC BY 4.0

Inclusion in Plant ID / Comparison Guides

This photo is featured in 1 plant ID/comparison guide:

collage of Pitch Pine and Loblolly Pine

Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) vs. Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)

Updated February 4th, 2023

These species have only a small range of overlap, but can be easily confused in this region. Both can have yellow-green needles in bundles of three, and both can occur in sandy soil. They are easily distinguished by differences in cones, sprouting, needle length, and form. P. rigida is usually found in dry, barren, fire-prone habitats such as rock outcroppings or excessively-drained sands, whereas P. taeda is most likely on moist, rich sites, and on poorly-drained sites. These two pines can hybridize in the wild, and hybrids are also planted in landscaping, so it may not be possible to identify all individuals.

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