aka hickory pine, prickly pine,
mountain pine, squirrel pine
The table mountain pine is endemic to the Appalachian Mountains, where it’s found mostly in the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge physiographic provinces. In Maryland, that includes Frederick, Washington, and Allegany Counties, though there are no records of table mountain pine in Washington County.
This specimen was found at White Rocks in the Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area, which is actually in the Piedmont province, though at the westernmost part, right at the edge of the Blue Ridge province.
Table mountain pine grows slowly, with a rather crooked, many-branched habit, and is often flat-topped. It rarely grows taller than 60 feet, although the tallest on record was 94 feet. It prefers exposed, rocky sites (like White Rocks) where there’s little competition from other trees. The seedlings actually take root in rock crevices.
Identifying it is fairly easy, as there aren’t too many pine species in Maryland. The fact that it’s 2-needled and has spiny cones helps, along with noting the habitat. More on pine identification (and an explanation of “2-needled”) in a future post.
I was wondering about how it got the name “table mountain pine”, since sometimes it’s written with capital letters: Table mountain pine or Table Mountain pine. Was it named for a specific place? The internets gave the following answers:
“Pinus pungens is named for generic Appalachian mountain forms, not a specific mountain, and so the common name should not be capitalized as a proper noun.” (University of Georgia)
“This tree was first collected around 1794 near Tablerock Mountain in Burke County, North Carolina, hence the common name `Table Mountain pine’.” (North Carolina State University)
So who knows? Though the second source sounds authoritative.