Aren’t evergreen trees supposed to keep their needles all winter long, always be green?

On an afternoon walk one day, I noticed for the first time that some of the Pines near our place had started to change colors. It’s nice to notice other trees like Oaks and Walnuts changing colors and shedding their leaves for the Fall, but these pines changing and shedding worried me. I looked up at them with anxiety wondering why some of the needles were starting change to yellow and brown and fall off. Were these pine trees sick? They are coniferous, they aren’t supposed to change. Was it because it has not rained in weeks? I was really concerned. I walked up closer to the trunk of one of them and looked for signs of infection or pests. I could see nothing. There should be something that someone could do to save these pines before they die completely. Baffled and disheartened, I walked back home hoping with all my mind that they weren’t dying.

As it turns out, some pine trees actually do shed some of the older needles closer to the branch or trunk of the tree about every two to seven years. These particular trees near my place are pinus strobus, or White Pine trees. Apparently the tree abscises (sheds its leaves) so can replace redundant needles with new, more withstanding needles in the next few springs. Upon my quest to find out all that I could about these abnormal shedding evergreens, I discovered a rich history, and that they are more abundantly important than meets the eye. Not only are they an anomaly in the coniferous tree kingdom because they abscise, but they are self-fertile when they need to be. The trees produced from a self-seeding are not as strong as the ones from cross fertilized trees, but they will still have a long life. The White Pine is also pretty resistant to fire, so can often reseed in burned landscapes without pause. The white pine blister rust fungus that can disease and kill them needs to first be hosted in other trees or plants before it can infect a White Pine. That means that if a forest consisted of just White Pine trees, it pretty much would not ever get diseased with the blister rust fungus. In the 1600s an English explorer, George Weymouth, took seeds from the White Pine back to England in order to plant it for lumber supply. Almost all of the trees died because of the blister rust disease existing already there. The English loved how tall the white pines were, and often sent them logged back to England to be used for their ships’ masts. The English’s obsession with White Pines once caused a few riots in New England, and these are even said to have contributed to the eventual American Revolution. The White Pine is highly desired in the lumber industry because the wood is sturdy and does not crack or splinter when it dries out, even up to a year after being harvested. Other lumbers fell, or crack and split apart when dried rendering the lumber useless if it is not cut down right away. This is a caveat benefit however, because White Pine wood is softer than other woods. That means if its lumber is used as a flooring or in a weight bearing application, it will bow and wear easily. Another interesting fact about the White Pine is that the needles have more vitamin C than oranges and lemons do. It is often used in teas and other medicinal extracts. Not only is it the state tree of Maine, but also Michigan since 1955. Such an amazing tree with so many qualities, no wonder is it protected by the USDA so diligently.

If we were to ignore the botanical and dendrological value of the White Pine, we could still easily acknowledge the philosophical value of this tree. A person who seems to always be strong and withstanding to life vigorously also sometimes needs to shed those things that make them weak or vulnerable. Once life has burned and ravished a person, he/she has the ability to get up and build again on those ashes. Sometimes what can hurt a person or even kill them can be disguised in our friends and family. Putting oneself in a safer place away from these toxic traits of these people could just save a person’s life. Environment can be everything. What makes a person beautiful and important may seem like it would allow them to flourish anywhere, but that is not always the case. Besides the underlying envy and greed vices, sometimes going to great lengths to get what one wants will bring consequential havoc and ruin that will forever change one’s life. These anecdotal comparisons could go on and on, but ultimately the point will be made. Trees can and do offer so much knowledge and insight to us and we should pay attention. I will never not pay attention to the trees around me, and I will always appreciate being able to see them everyday. I hope someday I can teach my children all about them so that they too have such an appreciation.

I am a tree, Mom.

Wikipedia's Pinus Strobus info:

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