Description & Overview
Red Pine is an evergreen, native to Wisconsin, the Midwest, the northeastern United States, and Canada. This tree thrives in acidic soils on the hills, slopes, and plains of northern Wisconsin. The reddish-brown, flaky, plated bark is one defining characteristic of this species. Look for needles in groups of two, about 4-6 inches long. Cones are missing the spines found on other species’ pinecones. When compared to Eastern White Pine, the needles grow in soft bunches concentrated mostly at the ends of each branch.
You may also know this plant as Norway Pine.
Red Pine is a handsome, pyramidal evergreen that can be found growing naturally in pure stands in the wild, often in areas that have been cleared by fire. This tree does not compete well with many other species and is very intolerant of shade. Due to these factors, it is rarely found in the loamy soils populated by other species that are more aggressive and shade tolerant, such as Aspen and Eastern White Pine. Red Pine’s niche is in less populated sandy, nutrient-poor soils. Old growth stands in the Great Lakes are found in sandy soils that are topped with only a thin layer of organic material.
Red Pine is a cool/cold weather tree that is hardy to zone 2 into Canada and often found in very harsh environments. If it is planted in its native range, it rarely suffers from any ailment. Conversely, if planted in areas with hotter, humid summers the tree will be more likely to succumb to parasites and infections. In short, this tree is made for Northern Wisconsin where temperatures are cooler and the soil generally more sandy and acidic- conditions in which Red Pine will thrive.
Restoration: A single specimen or a full stand of Red Pine would do very well in an area that is clear of shrubs and trees with minimal detritus.
Windbreak/Soil Erosion: Stands of Red Pine are sometimes planted strategically near riparian areas or fields to block the wind from blowing away the soil.
Green Screen/Privacy: Although not dense enough to fully block the view, when planted strategically, this evergreen will provide some screening from neighboring businesses, homes, roads, and more.
Many insects, mammals, and birds utilize Red Pine for various purposes.
Several species of birds and mammals such as the Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, and Red Squirrel use Red Pine as a nesting site.
The seeds of the cone are eaten by Red Squirrels, voles, and mice as well as Finches, Red Crossbills, Chickadees, Pine Grosbeak, Woodpeckers, Turkey, Quail and more.
Red Pine seedlings are eaten by Snowshoe Hare and Cottontails during times when other resources are scarce, either due to overpopulation of the rabbits or lower availability of other more desirable foods.
Porcupines climb trees for security and have even been seen nesting in pine trees. They also sometimes feed on the bark, and in some cases, can girdle the tree.
Properly siting Red Pine in an area with enough space for it to grow to maturity makes it so no pruning is ever necessary. Red pine naturally sheds its lowest branches as it matures.
Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes
When planted in cool climates there are very few issues.
Red Pine will become stressed and succumb to certain infections and parasites if planted in an area with hot, humid summers. Needle cast, needle blight, bark canker, root rots and rusts may occur. In some areas, budworm is the most significant insect pest. Other insect pests include sawflies, pine beetles, pine gall weevils, tussock moths and pine needle miners.
Salt spray can affect growth.
Red Pine is the official tree of Minnesota! Many Minnesotans know it as “Norway Pine.” This common name may originate from early European settlers who mistook Red Pine for Norway spruce. Yet another source says Norwegians were the first to log Pinus resinosa, so they were given the honorary title.
Although a tree is evergreen, its individual needles are not immortal. Red Pine’s needles last three or four years before they are shed in the fall!
This is arguably the most harvested wood and it has many important uses. Its straight trunks are used for pilings, poles, posts, and railroad ties. The wood is also widely used for timber, pulpwood, and fuel.
Red Pine forests on state and federal land are also managed for recreational purposes, as protected wildlife areas, and watersheds. Groves are used to block winds that contribute to soil erosion.
In some locations, Red Pine is found in pure stands in the wild. When a wildfire wipes out existing vegetation it clears the land of competition, also allowing the full sun exposure Red Pine requires. Seeds can remain viable in the ground for one to three years until the time is right. If the fire is followed by environmental conditions providing the appropriate temperature and moisture, as well as the right proportions of things like ground litter and ash, then there is potential for Red Pine to dominate the area and create a pure stand post-fire. This, of course, can only happen if the area stays wildfire-free for several decades. “Based on observations of old growth stands in north-central Minnesota such a combination of conditions in a given locality may occur only about once in 75 to 100 years (21,61, 76,96).” USDA Pinus resinosa Ait (usda.gov)
Other trees that are naturally found in dry, sandy soil include:
Species that succeed Red Pine in loamier soils are:
- Eastern White Pine
- Red Maple
- Black Cherry
- Red Oak
- White Oak
- Balsam Fir
- Black Spruce
- Sugar Maple
- Paper Birch
- Yellow Birch
- American Beech
- Northern White Cedar
Shrubs that are found in these forests include:
- Sweet Fern
- American Filbert
- Beaked Hazelnut
- Striped Maple
- Dwarf Bushhoneysuckle
- New Jersey Tea