Pond pine

Pinus serotina
Family: Pinaceae

Natural Historypond pine tree
Foliage of pond pine
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

As can be inferred from its name, the pond pine prefers to grow in wet areas. It is interesting to note that this water-loving tree is also adapted to fire. Pond pine has serotinous cones that open after exposure to fire and high heat. Additionally, this species will re-sprout needles from the trunk and limbs after a fire.  Like loblolly, pond pine cones persist on the tree for long periods of time. However, pond pine cones have a small stalk, are shorter, are more egg-shaped when closed, and squattier when open. Some books treat pond pine as a subspecies of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and list it as Pinus rigida subsp. serotina.

Habitat & Range

Pond pine grows best in swamps, shallow ponds, and boggy depressions, but can also be found in more upland areas. Pond pine ranges on the coastal plane from southern New Jersey to north Florida and central Alabama. 

Wildlife Use

Deer browse on the sprouts and seedlings and the seeds are eaten by many species of birds and rodents.

Human Use

The pond pine is an important pulpwood species and is also occasionally used for lumber.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Pond pine is a somewhat smaller pine tree, generally growing under 30 meters in height and under a meter in trunk diameter. It is characterized by a clear, symmetrical bole and a small open crown. Like shortleaf pine, young trees of this species are also capable of producing sprouts from the root collar.
Leaves:
Pines have long needle-like leaves that are held in bundles called "fascicles" with a sheath holding the needles together at the base. The first steps toward identifying each species are 1) measuring the length of the needles, 2) counting the number in a fascicle, and 3) measuring the length of the sheath. Be sure to check a few branches to get an average for the whole tree.

On pond pine the needles are usually 13 to 16 cm long, although they can be up to 20 cm. They are generally borne in fascicles of 3, although there can be some fascicles of 2, 4, or even 5. The needles are upright, twisted, and shiny yellowish-green. The sheath is about 1 cm long.

Twigs: The twigs are stout and rigid. They are at first bright green, but become orange-brown. They are sometimes described as "scraggly," giving the whole tree a twisted or deformed look.
Bark: The bark is very dark and scaly when young, becoming yellowish-brown with maturity. It is 1 to 2 inches thick and separated into large, irregular, flattened, and somewhat scaly plates by narrow seams and fissures. Needles and small branchlets commonly sprout from the bark.
Cones:
All pines are gymnosperms, which means that they reproduce with seeds but do not bear flowers or fruits. All pines are also monoecious, meaning that they bear both seed and pollen cones in separate structures on the same plant. The seeds cones can be "serotinous" (meaning that they remain closed at maturity and only open in response to a fire) or they can be "nonserotinous" (meaning that they open to release the seeds as soon as they are mature).

On pond pine, the pollen cones are about 3 cm long and yellow, occasionally with a purplish tinge.

The young seed cones are greenish-yellow, sometimes tinged with pink, and can be solitary or in whorls of 3. Mature seed cones are 5-8 cm long, narrow-conical, and aging from light brown to gray. The exposed part of each scale forms a diamond shape that is crossed by a distinct ridge with a fragile, brittle prickle in the middle. As the specific epithet for this species should tell you, the seed cones on pond pine are serotinous and they remain closed and persist on the tree for several years until they open with fire.

Seeds: The seeds of pond pine are 4-6 mm, with an attached wing adding 15-20 mm.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are four pine species on our list.
  • Loblolly Pine has needles in fascicles of 3. The needles are 4 to 9 inches long.
  • Longleaf Pine has needles in fascicles of 3 or occasionally 4. The needles are 8 to 18 inches long.
  • Pond Pine has needles in fascicles of 3 or occasionally 4. The needles are 4 to 8 inches long.
  • Slash Pine has needles in fascicles of 2 or occasionally 3. The needles are 5 to 12 inches long.

 

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