By Tammy Sons
For the scientific explanation of what a pine tree is, they are trees in the genus Pinus in the family Pinaceae. They make up the one species subfamily Pinoideae. There are approximately 115 species of pine, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species. Continuing on this scientific safari, the modern English name pine came from the Latin pinus.
Moving right along we find that pines are divided into three subgenera, base on cone, seed and leaf characters:
Pinus subg Ducampopius, the foxtail or pinyon group.
Pinus subg Pinus, the yellow or hard pine group.
Pinus subg. Strobus, the white or soft pine group
Pines are native to most of the Northern Hemisphere with the highest diversity in the genus occurring in Mexico and California. In North America, they range from 66°N in Canada (Jack Pine and Red Pine), south to 12°N in Nicaragua (Caribbean Pine).
Pines have been introduced in subtropical and temperate portions of the Southern Hemisphere, including Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, where they are grown widely as a source of timber. A number of these introduced species have become invasive, threatening native ecosystems.
Pines are evergreen, resinous trees growing 3-80 m tall, with the major population of species attaining heights of 15-45 m. The smallest are Siberian Dwarf Pine and the tallest is a 82 m tall Ponderosa Pine in southern Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National forest.
Pines are long-lived, typically reaching ages of 100–1,000 years, some even more. The longest-lived is the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva, one individual of which, at around 4,800 years old, is one of the world's oldest living organisms.
Most pines have the male and female cone on the same tree, though a few species not wholly single-sex The male cones are small approximately 1.-5 cm long and present for a short period, usually in the spring. There a few species where the male cones are present in the autumn. The female cone requires 1.5 to 3 years to mature after pollination. At maturity the female cone is about 3-60 cm long.
Of all the trees, pines are among the most commercially important tree species, valued for their timber and pulp throughout the world. In temperature and tropical regions , they are fast growing softwood. Commercial pines are grown in plantations for timber that is denser, more resinous, making it more durable than spruce. Pine wood is main stay in carpentry for items like furniture, window frames, paneling, floors and roofing. The resin of certain species is an important source of turpentine.
Let's examine the food aspect of some pine species. Some species have large seeds, called pine nuts which are harvested and sold for cooking and baking.
The soft moist, white inner bark found clinging to the woody outer bark is edible and very high in vitamins A and C. It can be eaten raw in slices as a snack or dried and ground up into a powder to thicken stews, soups and other foods.
If chewing on white bark is not to your liking, a tea made by steeping young, green pine needles in boiling water is high in vitamin A and C.