Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24, 2015 - The Homely Pitch Pine


I know I have written about pitch pines before, but I love them and they are what I see as being immortal trees.  They’re not terribly long-lived, perhaps a century or so, which is not very old at all for a tree, but they have a certain secret that the other trees do not.  They have the ability to regenerate branches all over the tree.  These branches are called epicormic shoots, and they are what give the pitch pine its immortality. 

Epicormic shoots are little fresh shoots of growth that can spring up anywhere on the pitch pine.  Other trees have this ability but none like the pitch pine.  Even when it doesn’t feel threatened, the pitch pine will send out bizarre little shoots here and there right through the thick bark of the tree.  When it is threatened, say through a forest fire that destroys an entire wooded area, although the pitch pine may look dead, it will send out fresh little shoots everywhere.  Other trees are dead and gone from the fire, but you will always find new little shoots on the pitch pine.  If that isn’t immortality, I don’t know what is.

The homely pitch pine.

The pitch pine hangs on to its cones because it takes them two years to mature.  So whereas you will not see cones on other pines all the time, you will see them on the pitch pine.  It just doesn’t want to let them go.  When no one is looking, it spreads its seeds in the winter.  It can’t self-pollinate, though, so it needs other pitch pines.  Dropping its seeds in the winter helps to ensure that more pitch pines will grow close by.  Also, the cones are so horribly spiked, that you do not dare to pick them up.  You will not find pitch pine cones on a Christmas wreath, and that’s a good thing (for the pitch pine, anyway).

I am told that even the oldest pitch pine will die at about 200 years maximum.  I wonder if that includes the little shoots.  I’m inclined to believe it does not.  The incredibly high resin in the pitch pine preserves the wood, adding to my idea of immortality.  They used to make railroad ties out of pitch pine because the wood stayed so well preserved.  But it’s gnarly and strange looking, too, because of all the odd little shoots and twists and turns in growth that the tree goes through.  This makes the pitch pine a perfect little Bonsai tree capable of beautiful horizontal shaping.

The pitch pine is not a graceful-looking tree.  It’s not beautiful like the white pine, the Maine state tree.  It’s not stately like the red oak.  It’s not flamboyant like the sugar maples.  It’s often twisted and bent and rather ugly.  Yes, it’s true.  It’s just darn ugly for the most part.  But it grows in absolutely terrible soil where other plants and trees refuse to grow.  It thrives on difficulty.  The more difficult its life becomes, the more it hangs on and continues to smile up at the sun.  That’s a beautiful quality.  Is it no wonder, then, that I love this homely little tree so much?

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