The holidays. They’re here. They’ve got me thinking of pine trees, and pinecones. And I’m wishing for snow. I’ve had a tiny bit of snow already, but I’m ready for more.
This is Virginia pine, Pinus virginiana. I live in a cabin, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in central Virginia. There are plenty of Virginia pine up here, in part because it is a pioneer plant. Pioneer plants will take over abandoned farm fields. Fifty and sixty years ago these mountains had very few trees. Even in the higher elevations, such as where I live, there were fields of corn, as far as the eye could see. As the corn fields were abandoned, pioneer plants, such as Virginia pine and black locust, took over. There are many other trees up here now, as the older trees, that took over the fields, mature, and make way for other tree species, as the forest matures.
Virginia pine is native from southern New York state, through the Appalachian Mountains, on into Tennessee and Alabama. The tree is small to medium sized, growing to 40 or 60 feet tall. With optimum growing conditions, a tree may reach 100 feet. The tree will tolerate, quite easily, very poor sandy soil, but prefers loam or clay.
The cones on Virginia pine will stay on the tree for several years. Small birds and mammals will eat the seeds from the cones. White-tailed deer will eat the branch tips and needles. The young pines provide shelter for small animals and are a popular tree for woodpeckers, because of the soft wood.
In the picture below, a red-breasted nuthatch is eating pine seeds.
The bark of Virginia pine is a mosaic of loose plates, reddish brown in color. A typical pine bark. The needles, twisted, bundled in pairs, 1.5 to 3 inches in length.
My husband and I may choose to cut a Virginia pine, as our Christmas tree this year. Surely there is one that is just the perfect size and shape. If things go as they usually do, we will wait until it is extremely cold and snowing to bring the tree in from the forest. Cold with blowing snow, perfect weather for cutting down a Christmas tree. I hope that, at the very least, we will have tromped through the woods, and selected and marked which tree will grace our great room, while the weather is pleasant. That being done, the cutting ceremony will be short and sweet, though very cold!
This monarch butterfly, in a picture from early July of this year, may be hinting at its choice for our Christmas tree. I think I’ll give this tree serious consideration!