The Western White Pine: Idaho’s state tree

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  • Photos by DON BARTLING White Pines are easily recognized by their long, soft, slender needles in bundles of five. The cones of white pines although still woody, are much softer than the cones of hard pines. The scales on cones of white pines have no prickles and are often dotted with spots of white resin.

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    A stand of young Western White Pine on the eastern slope of Queen Mountain overlooking the Moyie River.

  • Photos by DON BARTLING White Pines are easily recognized by their long, soft, slender needles in bundles of five. The cones of white pines although still woody, are much softer than the cones of hard pines. The scales on cones of white pines have no prickles and are often dotted with spots of white resin.

  • 1

    A stand of young Western White Pine on the eastern slope of Queen Mountain overlooking the Moyie River.

“The pine stays green in winter ... wisdom in hardship.” — Norman Douglas 1868-1952

One of my favorite pine trees is the majestic Western White Pine (Pinus Monticola pinaceae), which was designated the official state tree of Idaho in 1935. The largest and best western white pine forests can be found in North Idaho and the Bitterroot Mountains. The tree is often called the soft Idaho white pine or just the Idaho white pine. However, I like it best for its fragrance and its beauty as a Christmas tree.

The western white pine wood is soft, straight-grained, evenly textured and used to make everything from houses to wooden matches. The western white pine is a large tree and is widely grown as an ornamental tree, but has been seriously affected by white pine blister rust (a fungus that was introduced from Europe in 1909).

The western white pine has fine textured wood and is an important timber tree. It is prized for its soft, easily worked wood. It is good for moldings and window and door frames. Wooden matches were made from the pine in the 1920s and 30s. Native Americans boiled the bark and seeds and used it medically for stomach aches, and tuberculosis; it was also applied on cuts and sores. The pitch was chewed like gum.

The pines are important to wildlife for their food value. They have nutritious, oily seeds that are favored by many birds, especially Clark Nutcracker, crossbills, grosbeaks, jays nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Many small mammals, such as chipmunks and squirrels, also eat the seeds. Foliage is eaten by grouse and deer. Porcupines and small rodents eat the bark and wood. Pine needles are a favorite material for birds making nests. The large pines provide excellent sites for roosting and nesting while the small pines provide good cover for many animals.

The western white pine is native to southern British Columbia, western Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana, the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and the Sierras of California. They are fast growing and may grow 1 to 2 feet in a year. White pine typically reach 120-180 feet tall at 150 years and 2.5 to 3.5 feet in diameter, with an average life span of 350 years. However, some white pine live to be as old as 400 years.

Their needles are 2-4 inches long and in bundles of five with long curved cones (6-12 inches) when dry. The bark of a white pine is characterized by a dark grey color and broken into small square blocks on mature trees.

Enjoy Boundary County and all its beautiful trees!

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