Shortleaf Pine

Pinus echinata

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Illustration of shortleaf pine needles, twig, cones.
Shortleaf pine, Pinus echinata
Paul Nelson
Family

Pinaceae (pines)

Description

Shortleaf pine is a large tree with a long, clear trunk and broad, open crown.

Leaves are needles, from persistent sheaths at the base of the needles; needles in bundles of 2 (sometimes 3), 3–5 inches long, slender, flexible, not twisted, sharp-pointed, dark bluish-green.

Bark is thick, reddish-brown to nearly black, broken into large, irregular, scaly plates.

Twigs are stiff, stout, rough, brittle, green at first turning gray to reddish-brown with age, usually covered with a whitish coating.

"Flowers" (sheds pollen) March–April, with male and female cones found on the same tree; male cones in clusters at the tips of twigs, yellowish-brown to purple, ¾ inch long.

Fruits September–October, maturing the second year, persistent on the branches, a woody cone in clusters of 1–3, hanging, brown, 1½– 2½ inches long, narrowly egg-shaped; scales separating at maturity, tips with sharp, curved spines.

Similar species: Shortleaf pine is Missouri's only native pine species. The other five pines included in our flora are non-natives that are commonly planted in timber plantations, for wildlife habitat, for erosion control, or as ornamentals: Austrian pine (P. nigra), jack pine (P. banksiana), eastern white pine (P. strobus), loblolly pine (P. taeda), and scrub pine (P. virginiana). These species frequently produce cones and reproduce themselves within their populations, thus they can become naturalized locally and are counted as part of our state's flora. Other pines are grown only as ornamentals or on Christmas tree farms and do not reproduce on their own, so they are not considered part of our flora; these include ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), red pine (P. resinosa), and Scotch pine (P. sylvestris). The bottom line is, unless you are at an old home site or at a place where the non-native pines have been cultivated and might persist on a local scale, the only type of pine you will encounter in the wild in Missouri is almost always the shortleaf pine.

Key Identifiers
  • Needles are in bunches of 3.
  • Leaves are 3–5 inches long.
  • Native to upland forests in the Ozarks.
  • Missouri's only native pine tree; is being reintroduced to its former habitat.
  • All other pines in Missouri are cultivated or have escaped from cultivation.
Size

Height: to 120 feet.

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shortleaf pine
Shortleaf Pine

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Shortleaf Pines
Shortleaf Pines

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Photo of the trunk and bark of a shortleaf pine tree.
Shortleaf Pine Trunk
Shortleaf pine trunk

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Shortleaf Pines
Shortleaf Pines

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photo of Houf Pine Forest
Houf Pine Forest
Towering stands of shortleaf pine once were part of Peck Ranch Conservation Area. Ongoing efforts aim to restore this plant community to the area.

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Shortleaf Pine
Shortleaf Pine
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in moist to dry upland forests and margins of glades on acidic soils derived from sandstone, chert, or igneous substrates; also grown in plantations. Missouri's only native pine. Pine woodlands were once a major natural community in the Ozarks, but extensive logging from 1890 to 1920 devastated those vast communities. Oaks then spread into the former pinelands. Today, some scattered pine populations, mostly on public lands, are being managed to preserve the natural character.

image of Shortleaf Pine distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Naturally occurring mainly in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, but commonly planted elsewhere.

Status

Once a dominant tree community over much of the Ozarks, shortleaf pine woodlands are being restored not only for their intrinsic value and the sake of the plants and animals associated with them, but also for future generations to know and appreciate this part of our state’s natural heritage.

Human connections

Missouri’s shortleaf pine forests provided innumerable railroad ties for our nation’s expanding transportation network in the early 20th century. The wood is also used for general construction, exterior and interior finishing, and pulpwood. Teas made from pines once were used to treat many ailments.

Many old-time Missouri place-names include the word "piney" (for example, the Piney River), reflecting the former prevalence of pine woods in those areas as well as the Ozark settlers' fondness for the "-y" or "-ey" ending for forming adjectives in place-names (caney, brushy, clifty, and deerey are other examples).

Ecosystem connections

It is hard to place a value on what was once the dominant tree over many thousands of acres, influencing the soils below and defining the character and community of all the plants and animals that lived beneath its canopy. Many birds and small mammals eat the seeds, and deer browse the new twigs.