Over 100 species of pines are scientifically described, with 40 or so native to North America. Distinguished by their needles, cones, and scaly bark, pines are important components to many ecosystems, from coastal-plain flatwoods in the southeastern U.S., to stunted, elfin forests at the upper timberline of high Western mountains.
Pines are most prevalent in the northern hemisphere, where they are broadly distributed. The Sumatran pine grows in the equatorial zone, but most species are found in temperate or boreal forests and highlands. In the U.S. mainland, you are rarely far from one kind of pine or another.
Pines are some of the hardiest, most opportunistic of the northern hemisphere's trees. They often inhabit fire-influenced landscapes; certain species only reproduce after wildfires, and many eagerly invade a forest of hardwoods or other conifers after a conflagration opens up the canopy. Pines often define the lower tree line in foothills bordering intermountain or Great Plains steppe, easily handling the semiarid conditions.
Some pines eke out a living in truly extreme places. A number of species native to western North America grow at high elevations near or at upper timberline. Among them is the Great Basin bristlecone pine, perhaps the longest-lived of any single organism: individual pines in high mountains of California and Nevada may be 5,000 years old or older.
- "The Sibley Guide to Trees"; D.A. Sibley; 2009
- The Gymnosperm Database: Pinus
- "Timberline: Mountain and Arctic Forest Frontiers"; S.F. Arno, et al.; 1984
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