With nearly 200 species and over 800 cultivars, it would be next to impossible to address all the different types of pine trees. The largest member of the conifer family, pine trees are iconic and evergreen and found around the world in various capacities. But what might some of the most popular types of pine trees be, and how can you learn how to distinguish different pine tree types?
Typically divided into two subgenuses, here’s how to find a pine tree that works well in your landscaping or backyard!
Types of Pine Trees: Yellow vs. White
While there are many different schools of thought on how to classify pine trees, most people separate them based on the overall strength of their wood. Known as the Pinus subg. Pinus and Pinus subg. Strobus, respectively, here are some key characteristics of the two primary pine groups.
Yellow or Hard Pine Trees
The larger subgenus of pine trees, hard pines are also colloquially referred to as yellow pines. These trees have incredibly hard wood and can also be identified by their smaller needle clusters.
White or Soft Pine Trees
A much smaller subgenus compared to hard pines, soft pines have more needles per needle cluster on their branches. These pines are also known as white pine trees.
The Most Common and Popular Types of Pine Trees
Long-lived and beautiful, pine trees make a great addition to any landscaping project. Just know that these trees can indeed live hundreds of years, and the longest-living thing on planet earth is technically a type of pine tree!
Let’s talk about some of the most popular and common types of pines now.
Classifed as Pinus lambertiana and a member of the white pine family, sugar pines are the tallest and thickest pine trees out there. It also produces the longest pine cones of any other tree, though not necessarily the weightiest. This gentle giant is native to the Pacific Northwest and California.
Found on the other side of North America, red pine trees are native to the east coast and Canada. These trees reach an average of 100 feet tall and some studies suggest that this particular pine tree species almost went extinct based on its genetic code.
Jack pines are a smaller variety of pine tree, often growing into strange shapes based on soil content and local weather. The cones of this particular pine tree also grow differently than others, often curving inward toward the trunk. It is native to the Eastern United States and Canada and is classified as Pinus banksiana.
A yellow pine named after the Latin word for “hedgehog“, shortleaf pine trees are classified as Pinus echinata. It thrives in a variety of conditions in the Southern United States and is widely produced for timber. It reaches an average of 75 feet tall and its needles are very distinct.
The official state tree of Alabama, longleaf pines, is different from shortleaf pines in a variety of ways. For example, the needles found on longleaf pines are much longer and these trees grow taller overall. Plus, longleaf pines have tough and scaly bark that is very fire resistant.
Classified as Pinus sylvestris, the Scots or Scotch pine tree is an ideal ornamental pine for a number of reasons. It was one of the most popular Christmas tree varieties a few decades back, and it is one of the few pine trees native to northernmost Europe. Plus, its striking blue-green needles and red bark make a great addition to any landscaping.
As its name implies, the Turkish pine is a yellow pine native to Turkey and is a great choice for those of you living in hotter or drier climates. This pine tree thrives in the heat given its native Mediterranean habitat, and it is an extremely popular ornamental pine tree variety.
A yellow pine that gets harder as it ages, the Virginia pine is native to the southernmost United States. It is not a particularly long-lived pine tree compared to other varieties. However, it does have a haphazard appearance and yellowish needles in the wintertime, despite it being an evergreen tree.
Western White Pine
Known by many other names, the Western white pine is native to the west coast of the United States and is the official state tree of Idaho. A popular ornamental variety, Western white pines thrive in higher altitudes and can reach up to 200 feet tall. It is also known as the silver pine and can be classified as Pinus monticola.
Eastern White Pine
Similarly to Western white pines, eastern white pines are extremely popular when used as ornamental trees. In its history, eastern white pines were once used for the masts of ships. Therefore, they are revered in the northeastern United States for this reason among many others, including lumber production.
Preferring dry soil and weather conditions, the lodgepole pine or Pinus contorta is one of the most common pine trees in North America. It is widely spread throughout Canada and along the west coast of the United States. Additionally, it has a few different subspecies and cultivars associated with its scientific classification.
A hard pine that relatively rarely reaches over 80 feet tall, the pitch pine was once widely valued and distributed for pitch production. However, this tree grows in an irregular manner, making it difficult to harvest or use for timber production. It makes a great ornamental tree in a variety of climates, considering it thrives in soil with poor nutrition.
Once native to Europe and the Mediterranean, maritime pine trees are widely spread throughout the world nowadays. In fact, this particular pine tree is an invasive species in South Africa. It is a popular ornamental tree elsewhere in the world given its ability to thrive in temperate climates. It is scientifically classified as Pinus pinaster.
As its name suggests, the sand pine is one of the few pine trees that grow well in sandy soil. It is native to very specific regions of Florida and Alabama, thriving in locations where most canopy trees do not. This makes it a very important tree for a variety of endangered animal species in that location.
With a few different varieties and many different names, the slash pine is one of the hardest woods available, particularly of any other pine species. It grows in swampy regions with other tree and shrub species and is native to the southern United States. The swamp pine is just another name for it, and it has a uniquely dark bark color.
The ponderosa pine tree is native to the westernmost United States. It is considered to be the most widely distributed pine tree in North America. It produces some of the tallest pines in the world and also makes a great bonsai tree because of its shaggy, red bark. This also makes it a great ornamental tree in the average backyard, so long as your climate is cold enough.
Besides red maple trees, the loblolly pine is the most common tree in the United States. Classified as Pinus taeda, loblolly pines have exceedingly upright and straight trunks and are considered one of the tallest pines native to the southernmost United States. They are named after mud pits or swampy holes, given that this tree thrives in locations that offer this. Additionally, the loblolly pine once held the record for the largest genome sequence but was displaced by the unique axolotl.
Gnarled and revered, bristlecone pine trees are some of the longest-living trees on this planet, as well as being some of the longest-living things, period. Growing only at higher elevations in the Western United States, bristlecone pine trees have a few different varieties with distinctly twisted trunks and branches.
Native to the Mediterranean but planted ornamentally around the world, the Austrian pine is also known as the black pine tree. Frequently reaching over 100 feet tall, the Austrian pine is highly resistant to drought, pollution, and many diseases, making it a popular landscaping tree in cities as well.
Japanese Black Pine
Native to Japan and South Korea, the Japanese black pine is also simply known as a black pine or Japanese pine, depending on who you talk to. This is a common and revered bonsai tree variety. However, full-size cultivars are also trained in a similar way, leading to a beautiful and intricate branching habit that takes years to master.
Japanese White Pine
Also native to Japan and South Korea, the Japanese white pine is the sister pine to the Japanese black pine. It is also colloquially known as the five-needle pine. It makes an excellent bonsai specimen as well as an ornamental tree. Its cones grow in delicate clusters.
Classified as Pinus bungeana, the lacebark pine is a very different pine tree compared to others on this list. It is slow growing and native to China, covered in unique white bark that develops more texture and patterns as it ages. In fact, the bark peels and appears metallic in color, with reds and grays streaking the white base. This tree is incredibly popular for its ornamental appeal and is extremely frost tolerant as well.
Bonus: How Do Pine Trees Benefit Animals?
Pine trees play an essential role for animals by providing food and shelter – especially during cold months. Not all birds migrate to warmer habitats – and pine trees serve as shelters for overwintering birds needing a place to escape the cold and wind. Owls like to roost in the tall branches of pines.
Stands of pines offer areas for deer to rest and eat – the canopy of pine branches reducing wind chill and catching snow to provide insulation and lessen snow on the ground – making it easier for deer to walk.
Many animals count on the pines for nourishment during harsh winter months. Deer and black bears eat the bark during lean times and woodpeckers peck into that same bark to hunt for larvae. Chipmunks and squirrels love eating the seeds of pinecones during the entire year.
|Name of Pine Tree
|Pacific Northwest and California
|Tallest and thickest pine tree, largest pine cones
|US East Coast and Canada
|Averages 100 ft.
|Eastern US and Canada
|Grows in strange shapes
|Widely used for timber, distinct needles
|Official tree of Alabama, fire resistant, tough/scaly bark
|Scots or Scotch
|Native to northern Europe
|Popular Christmas tree, blue-green needles, red bark
|Native to Turkey
|Best in hot or dry climate
|Yellowish needles in winter, hardwood
|Western White or Silver
|US West Coast
|Official tree of Idaho, thrives in high altitudes, grows up to 200 feet tall
|Northeastern US but popular worldwide
|Grows up to 180 ft., wood used for ship masts
|Lodgepole or Shore or Twisted
|US and Canada, along ocean shores and dry mountains
|Prefers dry soil and weather, but adaptable
|Northeastern US and Eastern Canada
|Used for pitch production, irregular trunk
|Native to Europe and Mediterranean but worldwide
|Invasive in South Africa
|Florida and Alabama
|Grows well in sandy soil
|Slash or Swamp
|Unique dark bark, grows in swampy areas, very hard bark
|Western US; most widely distributed
|Shaggy, red bark, one of the tallest pines
|Most common pine tree in US
|Upright, straight trunks
|Western US higher elevations
|Gnarled, one of the longest-living things on earth
|Austrian or Black
|Native to Mediterranean, but seen worldwide
|Resistant to drought, pollution, and diseases, often over 100 ft.
|Japan and South Korea
|Bonsai; intricate branching
|Japan and South Korea
|Bonsai; cones in clusters
|Unique white bark that peels to red and gray in patterns and textures
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sunshine Haven Photo/Shutterstock.com
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