Two Pines Found in Maryland

After finding table mountain pine (Pinus pungens) on Sugarloaf Mountain earlier this year, I did a little research on how to identify pines, intending to write a post about it. And since the Maryland Native Plant Society designated 2016 The Year of the Conifer, I of course checked their website, where I found a key, which was great except now it seemed pointless to write the post.

Anyway, there are two other species of pine that I see fairly often on Sugarloaf (and other natural areas in the Maryland Piedmont): white pine and scrub pine.


eastern white pine
Pinus strobus

White pine is familiar to many people as a popular landscape tree. In the right conditions is grows fast, straight and true, providing shade, privacy, and a pleasing light green fluffy backdrop. Unfortunately it is also susceptible to “white pine decline”, a mostly abiotic problem but this isn’t a gardening blog so I’ll just provide a link.

Eastern white pine is found in the eastern half of the US and Canada, except for the Deep South, and is listed as rare in Indiana. Specimens found in the woods of course won’t be as stately as the ones in landscape gardens, but it’s still a nice find.

According to the Maryland Biodiversity Project, this tree is native only to the westernmost part of the state, but is naturalized and can found throughout most of Maryland except parts of the Coastal Plain.

It’s fairly easy to identify, as it is the only pine in this area to have needles growing in bundles of five. They tend to be several inches long, soft, and a light gray-green.



scrub pine, aka Virginia pine
Pinus virginiana

As beloved as white pine is in the landscape, scrub pine is not. I’ve never met a landscaper or gardener who would consider using one. But there were several at my former house, and I just loved them. I had a hammock slung between a scrub pine and a black gum, and would lie in it quietly, watching the black-capped chickadees crawling up and down the trunk of the pine. Scrub pines grow crooked and the branches and needles are sparse, but they add interesting texture to a manicured landscape.


Scrub pine is found from New York (where it’s endangered) in the north to Georgia in the south and as far west as Missouri. It has shorter, darker needles than white pine, and they’re found in bundles of two.



Table Mountain Pine


aka hickory pine, prickly pine,
mountain pine, squirrel pine
Pinus pungens

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.