Things You'll Need
Ruler or tape measure
Longleaf (Pinus palustris) and Loblolly (Pinus taeda) pine trees are native to North America. Found primarily in the South, these trees are distinctive for their long needles and seed cones. Both trees grow in similar climates: Longleaf pines are found in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones 7A through 10A, while Loblolly pines are a little more cold-hardy, thriving in USDA zones 6B through 9B. Because they are both found in the same general areas, the best way to identify them is not to look at their habitats but rather to compare their appearances.
Look at the size of the tree. Although both can reach staggering heights in the wild (upwards of 100 feet), those found in the landscape are quite different -- especially if they are young. Longleaf pines younger than around seven years old are small, tufted and have a "grass-like" appearance, according to the University of Florida Extension. Loblolly pines, on the other hand, grow much more quickly and have a pyramidal shape when young. Mature loblolly pines also often lose their lower branches.
Slip on some gardening gloves to protect your hands, and then examine the needles. Longleaf pines have bright-green needles that bend easily and reach lengths of 14 inches. Loblolly needles only reach 9 inches at the most and are brown in the winter.
Pick off a pine cone. Longleaf cones are prickly and can be as large as 10 inches long. They tend to cling to the tree rather than drop easily. Loblolly cones are smaller, between 3 and 6 inches long, and have spines. They cling to the tree in pairs and tend to be greater in number than those produced by Longleaf pines.
Examine the bark. Longleaf pines have very thick, reddish scales. They are rough in appearance and protect the tree from forest fires. The bark of a Loblolly pine is grayish-brown and is formed of broad, long plates.
Look for distinctive clues. One of the most obvious can be seen in the spring, when new growth forms. Longleaf pines develop large, creamy white buds at the ends of the branches. They are quite noticeable, according to the Virginia Tech University extension. Loblolly pines, on the other hand, have unobtrusive, narrow, light-brown buds.
- University of Florida Extension; Pinus palustris: Longleaf Pine; Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson; November 1993
- University of Florida Extension; Pinus taeda: Loblolly Pine; Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson; November 1993
- Virginia Tech University: Longleaf Pine
- Virginia Tech University: Loblolly Pine