Category Archives: Trees

Meet the Pines: Pitch Pine

Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) has three needles per bundle and spiny seed cones. Mature cones tend to be held on Pitch Pines for many years. The following photos show various parts of the tree, including winter buds, male pollen cones (I gathered my first Pitch Pine pollen cones in May 2013), newborn female cones, one-year-old green seed cones, ripe seed cones (which take 2-3 years to mature), and finally some hungry needle-eaters.

Learn about other pines: Eastern White PineRed PineScotch Pine

Meet the Pines: Eastern White Pine

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a common tree with many gifts to share. Most people have heard of pine needle tea, and, indeed, chopped up needles can be steeped in hot water to make a vitamin-rich beverage. The tree's pine nuts are also edible, though they are much smaller than those of other species. During the summer months, the smooth bark of young trees can be removed and folded into watertight containers (bulk bark collection is typically lethal to the tree, so should not be done wantonly). Small sections of bark (from a branch) can also be used as a natural bandage (with the moist inner bark facing the wound), both to protect a wound and promote swift healing. Rootlets can also be dug and used as cordage for various tasks. More recently, foragers around the country are taking notice of pine pollen and marking their calendars so as not to miss the narrow collection window for this nutrient-dense superfood.

On top of all that, Eastern White Pine is easy to recognize, making it a perfect tree for beginners to befriend. The tree's needles grow five to a bundle, a characteristic not shared by any other native New England pine. The following photos depict various aspects of this common evergreen, including winter buds, male pollen cones, and both developing and mature female cones.

Learn about other pines: Pitch PineRed PineScotch Pine

Quiz #77: Tree

Which of the following plant genera is not represented in the photo above? (Photo taken 10/27/2013 in Kennebunkport, Maine.)

Photo of Quiz #77: Tree

A. Carya

B. Quercus

C. Acer

D. Populus

When you are ready, scroll down for the answer…

A is... Correct!  The leaves pictured are all simple, whereas trees of the genus Carya (Hickories) have pinnately compound leaves.

B is... incorrect.  The top left leaf belongs to Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

C is... incorrect.  The bottom right leaf belongs to Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).

D is... incorrect. The bottom left leaf belongs to Big-toothed Aspen (Populus grandidentata).

Note: In case you're wondering, the remaining leaf (top right) belongs to Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).

Foraging Wild Nuts: Pine Nuts

Photo of Eastern White Pine Cone Scales

Ever wondered where pine nuts come from?  From pine tree cones*, of course!  This partly dismantled cone of Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) didn't have any pine nuts to show (botanically speaking they are seeds), but the paired indents on the underside of each bract mark where the seeds developed.  Nearly mature, unopened cones can be collected and dried or heated to induce opening.  While all of our native species produce edible seeds, none are as large as imported, store-bought varieties.

*These female seed cones are not to be confused with the short-lived male pollen cones.

Collecting Norway Maple Sap

This month, Sugar Maple sap is being collected all over the continental northeast, but other types of maples have sap equally edible, if not always as sweet. Two years ago, I decided to try tapping the old Norway Maple who lives in my backyard. Over just two weeks, I gathered several gallons of sap from a single tap (most days between 1/2 and 1 gallon). I boiled some of it down to syrup, just to experience the whole process, but much of it I enjoyed straight as a drink, or as the base for soups and teas.

Photo of Norway Maple Tap

Last Tuesday, after realizing I'd probably missed the very start of the sap running season, I drilled a new hole, and quickly set up a glass bottle for collection. In the first 6 hours, 1/3 of a gallon had collected. The next day was not as warm, but with more hours on the tap the gallon bottle was half full by day's end.

If you have access to a large enough maple, it may not be too late to gather your own (assuming you are reading this in late winter). Drinking the sap (or tree blood as I sometimes call it) of a particular maple tree will connect you in a sweet, lasting way.