[+ ZOOM] Young male cones. © Kevin Sparkman
The most characteristic tree of uplands in the Pine Barrens, the Pitch Pine is a suitable symbol of the region. It grows in lowlands, as well, demonstrating a remarkable ability to inhabit a surprising number of habitats. The dwarf form, with its serotinous cones, is the emblem of the famous Pine Plains. Pitch Pine withstands wildfire, drought, and even repeated cutting. Compared to pines that grow in a more regular fashion—White Pine, for example—the Pitch Pine is scraggly, irregular, perhaps even unattractive to some. But to those long accustomed to its unique and rugged appearance, it represents the Pine Barrens itself.
Flower: Pollen shed late April to May; cones mature autumn of second season and persist.
Habitat: Uplands and wetlands. Sterile, sandy to rocky, acid soils.
Here’s what Witmer Stone said about the Pitch Pine in his landmark Plants of Southern New Jersey:
“This is the common pine of the Pine Barrens. It occurs here and there in the North and Middle districts and there is a considerable grove on Absecon Beach, below Atlantic City. On the other island beaches, however, it is absent or very rare.
“The Pitch Pine is the Pine of the New Jersey Barrens, and is largely restricted to them. Where a slight elevation of the sandy plain makes it possible for one to look out over the surrounding country, the pines extend in an unbroken sea of green clear to the horizon, and where it is only possible to see straight ahead they line the white, sandy trail with a green barrier on either side, stretching away until they seem to join together and swallow it up. In some places the pines reach a height of sixty feet and grow comparatively close together with bare trunks; again they are shorter, and scattered here and there over the white, shining sand, with branches all the way to the base; and on the so-called plains they are dwarfed and stunted with round boles half buried in the coarse sand and gravel, and prostrate branches seldom rising higher than a man's knee.
“The pines lend a charm to this desolate country. In winter, when the wind is sighing through their branches and patches of snow here and there add to the whiteness of the sand, their evergreen foliage seems to warm the landscape, and their thick wall of branches offer shelter from the storm; and in summer the air of the pine land, rich with its resinous odor, seems dry, clear and refreshing- as compared with the humidity of the Delaware River country.
“At all seasons there is a peculiar restfulness in these quiet stretches, over which the pines stand as silent sentinels. And as day closes, and we pitch our camp among them, we see the light fading from their topmost branches, and the shadows deepening beneath them, while the dark limbs seem to stretch out and take the whole earth in their sheltering embrace.”