13 Most Common North American Pine Species

common North American pine species tree illo

Treehugger / Hilary Allison

Pine is a coniferous tree in the genus Pinus, in the family Pinaceae. There are about 111 species of pines worldwide, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species. Pines are native to most of the Northern Hemisphere.

Pines are evergreen and resinous trees (rarely shrubs). The smallest pine is Siberian Dwarf Pine and Potosi Pinyon, and the tallest pine is Sugar Pine.

Pines are among the most plentiful tree species. In temperate and semi-tropical regions, pines are fast-growing softwoods that will grow in relatively dense stands, their acidic decaying needles inhibiting the sprouting of competing hardwoods.

The Common North American Pines

Longleaf pine forest.

John Elk III / Getty Images

There are actually 49 species of native pines in North America. They are the most ubiquitous conifer in the United States, easily recognized by most people and very successful in maintaining solid and valuable stands.

Pines are especially widespread and predominant in the Southeast and on drier sites in the Western mountains. Here are the most common and valuable pines that are native to the United States and Canada.

  • Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)
  • Western white pine (Pinus monticola)
  • Sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana)
  • Red pine (Pinus resinosa)
  • Pitch pine (Pinus rigida)
  • Jack pine (Pinus banksiana)
  • Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)
  • Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata)
  • Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)
  • Slash pine (Pinus elliottii)
  • Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana)
  • Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta)
  • Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Major Characteristics of the Pines

Full Frame Shot of Pine Tree
Sigrid Intraligi / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Leaves: All of these common pines have needles in bundles of between 2 and 5 needles and wrapped (sheathed) together with paper-thin scales that attach to the twig. The needles in these bundles become the tree's "leaf" that persists for two years before dropping as the tree continues to grow new needles every year. Even as the needles are dropping bi-annually, the pine maintains its evergreen appearance. 

Pine cones on a tree.

Mario Krpan / Getty Images

Cones: Pines have two types of cones - one to produce pollen and one to develop and drop seeds. The smaller "pollen" cones are attached to new shoots and produce a massive amount of pollen every year. The larger woody cones are seed-bearing cones and mostly attached to limbs on short stalks or stalkless "sessile" attachments.

Pine cones usually mature in the second year, dropping a winged seed from between each cone scale. Depending on the species of pine, empty cones may drop off immediately after seed fall or hang on for several years or many years. Some pines have "fire cones" that only open after the heat from a wildland or prescribed fire releases the seed.

Pine Bark Closeup
Donald E. Hall / Getty Images

Bark and Limbs: A pine species with smooth bark generally grows in an environment where a fire is limited. Pine species that have adapted to a fire ecosystem will have scaly and furrowed bark. A conifer, when seen with tufted needles on stout limbs is confirmation that the tree is in the genus Pinus.

View Article Sources
  1. Gernandt, David. S., Gretel Geada López, Sol Ortiz García, and Aaron Liston. "Phylogeny and classification of Pinus." Taxon, vol. 54, 2018, pp. 29-42. doi:10.2307/25065300

  2. Hernández-León, Sergion, David S. Gernandt, Jorge A. Pérez de la Rosa, and Lev Jardón-Barbolla. "Phylogenetic Relationships and Species Delimitation in Pinus Section Trifoliae Inferrred from Plastid DNA." PLOS ONE, vol.8, no. 7, 2013, pp. e70501. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070501