The Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is a small-to-medium-sized pine, native to eastern North America. It can be found along the Atlantic coast from Canada to Georgia, and also into Kentucky. The needles come in bunches of three, are 2 to 5 inches long, and have a yellow-green to green color. Cones are about 2-4 inches long, have prickles and a light brown color. The bark is scaly when young and develops thick plates when the tree matures. The shape of the tree is extremely variable. This tree has been used as a wood source. Formerly it was an important source of resin from which turpentine and pitch were made. Known as a pioneer species. It is the dominant pine in the N. J. Pine Barrens. Total life span about 200 years. Serotinus is the Latin word for late, that is, the cone is late in maturing or opening
Common name: Pitch Pine, Northern Pitch Pine, Torch Pine, Sap Pine
Scientific Name (family and order): Pinus rigida Mill. (Pinaceae, Pinales)
Species Origin: Eastern North America. Introduced to horticulture before 1759.
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 40 – 60’ tall; bole 1- 2’. Straight or crooked. Crown rounded or irregular.
Habitat: Zone 4 – 7. Common and widespread species especially in dry sandy pine barrens or rocky soil but also in damp soil at swamp margins. Common in the Pine Barrens, N.J.
Trunk/Stem: Bark red-brown, deeply and irregularly furrowed with long, rectangular plates. It is a thick bark apparently as a protection from fire. Often with tufts of needles along its trunk (epicormic growth) – trait is shared only with Pond Pine (P. serotina). The twigs of P. rigida are fibrous and do not snap cleanly when bent.
Leaves: Evergreen, needle-like in clusters of three (but our specimen has a mix of 2 and 3), 3 ¼” yellow green, long stiff, prickly; spreading, somewhat curved and twisted. Needles persist for 2 -3 years.
Flowers: Monoecious. Male flowers yellow at shoot tip, female flowers light green tinted rose slightly below tip or on adjacent shoot.
Fruits and seeds: Often in cluster of 3 – 5 , cones 2 ½” long, ovate to pyramidal, flat at base, very prickly, often persistent for 2 or more years after maturity (2 years); serotinous (cone closed until opened by heat/fire).