To the UNC Home Page


PINACEAE (Pine Family)

References: Thieret in FNA (1993), Price (1989), abbreviated as Z.

1. Leaves flat and linear......2

1. Leaves needle-like, angular rather than flat in cross-section......3

3. Leaves borne singly, 4-sided Picea

3. Leaves either borne on short spur-shoots or in fascicles of 2-5, rounded to somewhat flattened in cross-section, but not 4-sided......4

5. Leaves evergreen; cones 6-12 cm long Cedrus

5. Leaves deciduous; cones 1-2 cm long Larix


Abies P. Miller (Fir)

References: Hunt in FNA (1993).

1 Bracts of the mature cones shorter than the scales or slightly exserted beyond the scales; stomatal rows (4-) 7 (-8) on each side of the midvein on the lower leaf surface (visible at 10H); [plant of the Central Appalachians and north] A. balsamea

1 Bracts of the mature cones longer than the scales and reflexed; stomatal rows (8-) 10 (-12) on each side of the midvein on the lower leaf surface (visible at 10H); [plant of the Southern Appalachians] A. fraseri

Abies balsamea (Linnaeus) P. Miller, Balsam Fir, Northern Balsam. Mt (VA): high elevation forests and cliffs; rare (VA Rare List). April-May. Known in our area (as a native) only from Page and Madison counties, VA, A. balsamea ranges from Newfoundland and Labrador west to n. Alberta, south to NY, PA, MI, WI, and IA, and (disjunct) in the mountains to n. VA. There has been considerable debate over the taxonomic status of some, especially southern, populations of A. balsamea, which show some transition in characters towards A. fraseri, and have been variously treated as A. intermedia Fulling, A. balsamea var. phanerolepis Fernald, or A. Hphanerolepis (Fernald) Liu. Variation in e. North American Abies is somewhat clinal, with the greatest geographical and morphological discontinuity between n. VA and s. VA. It seems best, therefore, to recognize A. fraseri as a species and A. balsamea as a species including the clinal var. phanerolepis. The balsam woolly adelgid is afflicting this species in Shenandoah National Park. [= C, F, FNA, G, K, W, Z; including A. balsamea var. phanerolepis Fernald -- F, G; including A. intermedia Fulling]

Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poiret, Fraser Fir, She Balsam, Southern Balsam. Mt (NC, VA): high elevation forests, from about 1500-2037m; uncommon (US Candidate, NC Candidate, VA Rare List). May-June; September-November. A. fraseri is a Southern Appalachian endemic, ranging from Grayson and Smyth counties, VA (notably, Mount Rogers) south to e. TN and sw. NC. This species is threatened as a native species by a virulent alien pest, the balsam woolly adelgid, and environmental damage caused by pollution. Populations on Mt. Rogers and, to a lesser extent, Roan and Grandfather mountains, appear to be relatively healthy. A. fraseri is closely related to the northern Balsam Fir, A. balsamea, and may be a relatively recent derivative of it. During the 1970's and 1980's, the cultivation of Fraser Fir Christmas trees became an important part of the economy of the North Carolina mountains. Most Christmas tree plantations are at 1000-1500m in elevation; below 1000m, Fraser Fir is very susceptible to a fungal root rot (Phytophthora), above 1500m it grows too slowly to be profitable and is often "flagged" by winds, ruining its shape for commercial purposes. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

Our 2 native species and other non-natives are grown as ornamentals, especially in the mountains.
Cedrus Trew (Cedar)

* Cedrus deodara (Roxburgh ex D. Don) G. Don, Deodar Cedar. Pd, Cp (NC, SC): frequently planted, rarely escaped to suburban woodlands; rare. [= K]


Larix P. Miller (Larch)

References: Parker in FNA (1993).

* Larix decidua P. Miller, European Larch. Mt (NC): forests; rare, introduced from Europe. Planted as an ornamental and experimentally as a forest tree, persisting and sometimes escaping in the high mountains of NC. [= F, K]

Larix laricina (Du Roi) K. Koch, Eastern Larch or Tamarack, ranges south in bogs and swamps to Garrett County, MD and Preston County, WV. It is not known from our area.


Picea A. Dietrich (Spruce)

References: Taylor in FNA (1993).

1. Cones 2.5-4.5 cm long; upper branches ascending, the lower spreading; outer bud scales prolonged into minute hairlike projections P. rubens

1. Cones 10-16 cm long; upper branches spreading to ascending, the lower drooping; outer bud scales without hairlike projections P. abies

* Picea abies (Linnaeus) H. Karsten, Norway Spruce. Mt (NC, VA): persisting and escaping from forestry plantations at moderate or high elevations, notably in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mount Mitchell State Park, and the Biltmore Estate; rare, introduced from n. Europe. [= FNA, K]

Picea rubens Sargent, Red Spruce, He Balsam. Mt (NC, VA): common to dominant in spruce and spruce-fir forests at high elevations, scattered in northern hardwood forests, heath balds, boulderfield forests, ridges, and rarely coves, also in bogs or swampy forests at lower elevations (down to about 1000m), ranging in moisture tolerance from dry ridges to saturated peats; uncommon. May-June; October. A northern species, largely associated with the Appalachians, ranging from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south (interruptedly) to w. NC and e. TN. P. mariana (P. Miller) Britton, Sterns, & Poggenberg, Black Spruce, has been reported for our area by Small (NC) and Fernald (VA) from bogs, apparently based on misidentifications of short-leaved, bog-inhabiting populations of P. rubens. True P. mariana can be distinguished from P. rubens by its smaller seed cones (1.5-2.5 cm long, rather than 2.5-4.5 cm), gray at maturity (rather than red-brown), and persisting longer. Hardin (1971) discusses the existence of southern populations of P. rubens growing in bogs (notably Long Hope Valley, Ashe and Watauga counties, NC and Pineola Bog, Avery County, NC) with shorter than normal leaves (8-10 mm long vs. 12-15 mm long). He suggests that "this may be ecotypic, but one wonders whether the short leaves and bog habitat might reflect a few Black Spruce genes that have persisted since the Pleistocene." Further study with modern electrophoretic and molecular techniques seems warranted. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z; including P. australis Small -- S]


Pinus Linnaeus (Pine)

References: Kral in FNA (1993), Duncan & Duncan (1988).

Note that young saplings generally have shorter needles than larger saplings and mature trees; measurements in the key are those of mature trees.

Main Key

1. Needles 5 in each bundle; each needle with 1 vascular bundle
P. strobus

1. Needles 2-3 (-4) in each bundle; each needle with 2 vascular bundles...... 2

3. Needles in bundles of 3, or 2 and 3, or 3 and 4 (predominantly or at least substantially in 3's)......4

3. Needles in bundles of 2 only...... 9

5. Needles 3-7 cm long; prickles on cones 3-8 mm long, stout (more than 1 mm wide at base of prickle) P. pungens

5. Needles 5-30 cm long; prickles on cones 1-3 mm long, slender (less than 1 mm wide at base of prickle)......6

7. Cones distinctly longer than broad when open or closed, 5-13 cm long; needles mostly (10-) 12-23 (-28) cm long, 0.7-1.5 mm wide; buds not resinous (or only slightly so); trunks not producing adventitious sprouts (epicormic sprouting) P. taeda

7. Cones about as broad as long, 3-6 cm long; needles (4-) 7-16 (-20) cm long, 1.5-2.0 mm wide; buds resinous; trunks commonly producing adventitious sprouts (epicormic sprouting), especially in response to fire......8

9. Needles stout, 1.5-2 mm wide......10

9. Needles slender to somewhat stout, 0.5-1.2 mm wide...... 11

11. Needles 10-17 cm long; branches brittle; spring shoots with a single node, with 1 whorl of branches; [trees of the north, sometimes planted in our mountains] P. resinosa

11. Needles 2-13 cm long; branches flexible; spring shoots usually with several nodes (several whorls of branches); [trees of various habitats]......12

13. Anthers yellow; bark tight, closely ridged, not sloughing off, reminiscent of a hardwood; tip of seed cone scales with a faint horizontal ridge and a minute, deciduous prickle; [native trees of mesic to fairly wet, fertile soils] P. glabra

13. Anthers dark orange; bark flaky, the laminated layers sloughing off in a manner typical of a pine; tip of seed cone scales with a conspicuous horizontal ridge and a short, stout prickle; [non-native trees of xeric sands] P. clausa


Auxiliary Key to common pines of the Piedmont

1. Needles 12-25 cm long, predominantly in bundles of 3; winter buds more than 1 cm long; cones 6-15 cm long, falling soon after releasing seed; bark plates thick, without crater-like blisters P. taeda

1. Needles 2-13 cm long, predominantly in bundles of 2; winter buds less than 1 cm long; cones 3-7 cm long, persisting on trees for several years after releasing seed; bark plates thin, with or without crater-like blisters......2

*Pinus clausa (Chapman ex Engelmann) Vasey ex Sargent, Sand Pine. Cp (NC): persisting after experimental planting in plantations; rare, native to Florida. [= FNA, K, S, Z]

Pinus echinata P. Miller, Shortleaf Pine, Rosemary Pine, Yellow Pine. Pd, Mt, Cp (NC, SC, VA): dry rocky ridges and slopes, sandhills, old fields, forests, generally in rather xeric sites, but also occurring in mesic to even wet sites; common. March-April; September-October. Widespread in se. North America, north to s. NY, NJ, s. PA, s. OH, s. IL, s. MO, and e. OK, perhaps reaching its greatest importance in dry, sandstone landscapes, such as the Cumberland Plateau of WV, KY, TN, and AL, and the Ozarks and Ouachitas of AR, MO, and OK. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

Pinus elliottii Engelmann var. elliottii, Slash Pine. Cp (NC*, SC): native in wet pine flatwoods and maritime forests in SC, extensively planted in SC and NC in silvicultural plantations on a wide variety of soils, many of them unsuitable for its successful growth, also planted on the Outer Banks of NC for island stabilization, as on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands; common. January-February; October-November. P. elliottii var. elliottii ranges from e. SC south to c. peninsular FL, west to e. LA; var. densa Little & Dorman is restricted to c. and s. peninsular FL. P. elliottii var. elliottii has been extensively planted throughout the Coastal Plain of NC and SC, where it now occupies tens of thousands of hectares. Superficially, P. elliottii resembles both P. palustris and P. taeda, with cone size and needle length intermediate. P. elliottii is sometimes difficult to tell from P. taeda; additional helpful characteristics are the seed cones on 1.5-3 cm long stalks (vs. essentially sessile), seed cones reddish-brown and glossy, appearing varnished (vs. brown and dull), needles thicker and a dark glossy green (vs. thinner and a yellowish green); bark prominently flaking off and revealing reddish patches (vs. not notably flaking off and revealing reddish patches). [= FNA, K, Z; P. elliottii -- RAB, infraspecific taxa not distinguished; P. caribaea Morelet -- S in part, misapplied; P. palustris P. Miller -- S in part, misapplied; including P. heterophylla -- S]

Pinus glabra Walter, Spruce Pine, Walter's Pine. Cp (SC): bottomland forests, rich, moist soils; uncommon. March-April; September-October. Ranging from SC south to n. FL and west to se. LA. This pine is unusual in growing in moist (even infrequently flooded), fertile habitats, usually mixed with bottomland hardwoods, and apparently rather shade tolerant, sometimes growing as an understory tree. [= RAB, FNA, K, S, Z]

Pinus palustris P. Miller, Longleaf Pine, Southern Pine. Cp, Pd (NC, SC, VA): formerly throughout the Coastal Plain, Sandhills, and lower Piedmont, on a wide variety of soils (sandy, loamy, clayey, or peaty), from very dry to very wet conditions, in savannas, woodlands, and forests affected by relatively frequent natural (lightning caused) fires (likely augmented augmented by native Americans), now reduced to less than a tenth of its former abundance by a variety of forces, including turpentining, timbering, free-range hogs, fire suppression, and "site conversion" by foresters to other trees, now extremely rare in VA and north of the Neuse River in NC, still occurring in some abundance in the outer Coastal Plain from Carteret County, NC south into SC, in the Bladen Lakes area of Bladen and Cumberland counties, and in the Sandhills of Harnett, Hoke, Scotland, Richmond, Moore, Anson, and Montgomery counties, NC and south into SC; common (locally) (VA Rare List). March-April; September-October. This species is a Southeastern Coastal Plain endemic, ranging from se. VA south to FL and west to se. TX; it extends slightly into the Piedmont in most states where it occurs, and further into the Piedmont and low mountains in GA and AL. "The species has been heavily exploited for timber and turpentine production, and it has been estimated that by 1930 only ten percent of its original volume of timber remained" (Price 1989); certainly much less now remains. Longleaf Pine is the state tree of NC. A hybrid with P. taeda, P. Hsondereggeri H.H. Chapman, occurs. [= RAB, C, FNA, K; P. australis Michaux f. -- F, G, S]

Pinus pungens Lambert, Table Mountain Pine, Burr Pine, Hickory Pine. Mt, Pd (NC, SC, VA): dry ridges, cliffs, more or less requiring fire for its reproduction, occurring at least up to 5000 feet in elevation; common (rare in Coastal Plain). May; September-October. A Central and Southern Appalachian endemic, ranging from n. NJ, through se. PA, w. MD, WV, w. VA, w. NC, and e. TN to nw. SC and ne. GA. [= RAB, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

* Pinus resinosa Solander, Red Pine. Mt (NC, VA): persisting after silvicultural planting; rare. [= C, F, FNA, G, K]

Pinus rigida, P. Miller, Pitch Pine. Mt, Pd (NC, SC, VA), Cp (VA): primarily on dry ridges, mainly above 1000 m in elevation, more or less requiring fire for its reproduction, less commonly in peat soils of mountain bogs (and then often at lower elevations of 800-1000 m) and also scattered through a variety of forest types; uncommon (rare in Coastal Plain of VA). May; September-October. This species ranges from s. Canada and s. ME south to n. GA. It is abundant near sea level in the Pine Barrens of NJ, but in NC is limited to the mountains and upper Piedmont; it is replaced in Coastal Plain fire-maintained wetland communities by the related Pinus serotina. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

Pinus serotina Michaux, Pocosin Pine, Pond Pine, Marsh Pine. Cp, Pd (NC, SC, VA): peaty soils of pocosins, swamps of small blackwater streams; common, rare in Piedmont. April; August (or at any time of year in response to fire). Ranging from s. NJ south to n. FL and se. AL, restricted to the Coastal Plain. A remarkable tree, well-adapted to fire by its serotinous cones and its ability to resprout needles from the branches, trunk ("epicormic sprouting"), or roots following fire. Extensive areas of peatland in the outer Coastal Plain are dominated by P. serotina, sometimes codominant with Gordonia lasianthus. Following fires which destroy all branches but do not kill the trees, epicormic sprouting results in entire forests of odd-looking cylindrical pond pines, the trunk thickly beset with needles, the outline of the tree a narrow cylinder 10-20 meters tall and less than 1 meter in diameter from base to summit. P. serotina is clearly a southern relative of P. rigida. It normally occurs in fire-maintained wetlands associated with ("downhill" from) P. palustris. On deep peats, P. serotina is stunted and of very irregular form; on mineral or shallower organic soils it can reach large size. Even when well-developed, the trunk is typically twisted and gnarled, helping to distinguish it from P. taeda. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, K, S, Z; P. rigida P. Miller ssp. serotina (Michaux) Clausen]

Pinus strobus Linnaeus, Eastern White Pine. Mt, Pd, Cp (NC, SC, VA): moist to dry forests, bottomlands, dry, rocky ridges in humid gorges; common (rare in Coastal Plain). April; August-September. Widespread in ne. North America, south to VA, w. and (rarely) c. NC, nw. SC, n. GA, e. TN, KY, IN, n. IL, e. IA, and MN. P. strobus was probably the tallest tree in e. North America, reaching heights of 60-70 meters. It was a very important timber tree historically. In NC a notable relict and disjunct stand of P. strobus occurs on bluffs of the Deep River in the eastern Piedmont of Chatham County; in VA P. strobus is widely but irregularly distributed in the lower Piedmont. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, W, Z; Strobus strobus (Linnaeus) Small -- S]

Pinus taeda Linnaeus, Loblolly Pine, Old Field Pine. Cp, Pd (NC, SC, VA): forests, fields, pine plantations; common, much more abundant and widespread than formerly, occurring further west than as a native. March-April; October-November. Widespread in se. North America, ranging north to s. NJ, VA, TN, AR, and se. OK. An unusual variant, occurring on the Outer Banks of NC, has stouter, longer needles (20-28 cm long) and larger cones (10-13 cm long); it may be worthy of taxonomic status, but requires further study. See P. elliottii for additional characters to distinguish these two species. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

* Pinus thunbergiana Franco, Japanese Black Pine. Cp (NC, SC): planted and persisting, sometimes appearing native, on barrier islands; rare, native of Japan. Growing in maritime situations in its native land, this tree's strong resistance to salt spray is the reason for its horticultural use in our area. Following moderate storm events on the coast, P. thunbergii's needles remain green and undamaged, even when needles of P. taeda, native to such situations, are salt-killed. [= K; P. thunbergii Parlin]

Pinus virginiana P. Miller, Virginia Pine, Scrub Pine, Jersey Pine. Mt, Pd, Cp (NC, SC, VA): dry forests and woodlands, especially on slopes and ridges, also common in certain areas as a weedy successional tree on nearly any kind of site; common (rare in the Coastal plain). March-May; September-November. Primarily a Central and Southern Appalachian endemic, ranging from s. NY, NJ, and PA, south through VA, WV, s. OH, s. IL, KY, TN, and NC to nw. SC, n. GA, n. AL, and ne. MS. A small, scrubby pine, occurring in very dense, monospecific stands in the upper Piedmont as a result of secondary succession of old fields. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

Pinus pinaster Aiton, Maritime Pine, is reported by Brown to be "introduced from Mediteranean region and planted on sand-flats in vicinity of Corolla, Currituck Banks, Bodie and Hatteras Island 1936-1940.... Now producing seeds and becoming naturalized near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. More resistant to salt spray than native pines" (Brown 1959). The current status of this species needs to be determined. It has needles in 2's, (10-) 15-20 (-25) cm long.

The following pines occur on barrier islands in NC and SC: P. taeda, P. palustris, P. elliottii var. elliottii, P. thunbergii, and (perhaps) P. pinaster (the latter two not native). In the Coastal Plain, the pines are P. palustris, P. serotina, P. echinata, P. taeda, P. glabra, and P. elliottii var. elliottii. In the Piedmont, three pines are common and typically present in disturbed upland soils. The auxiliary key is useful in separating these sometimes confusing trees.


Tsuga CarriPre (Hemlock)

References: Taylor in FNA (1993).

1. Most of the leaves 8-13 mm long, those originating from the sides and lower surface of the twig spreading more or less distichously in a horizontal plane, normally sized, those borne on the upper surface of the twig more or less appressed, dwarf, mostly 1/6 to 1/2 as long as the adjacent lateral leaves, 1-3 (-6) mm long, the whitened undersurface (consisting of rows of stomata) exposed upward; leaf margins minutely serrulate; leaf apices obtuse to rounded; seed cones 12-25 mm long T. canadensis

1. Most of the leaves 10-18 mm long, those originating from the sides and lower surface of the twig spreading more or less distichously in a horizontal plane, normally sized, those borne on the upper surface of the twig not appressed, spreading at a 60-90 degree angle from the twig, more or less normally sized, mostly 3/4 to as long as the adjacent lateral leaves, 8-15 mm long, the whitened undersurface (consisting of rows of stomata) not exposed upward; leaf margins entire; leaf apices minutely retuse (notched), truncate, or rounded; seed cones 20-38 mm long T. caroliniana

Tsuga canadensis (Linnaeus) CarriPre, Eastern Hemlock, Canada Hemlock. Mt (NC, SC, VA), Pd (NC, VA), Cp (VA): in a wide variety of habitats in the mountains, most typically and abundantly in moist sites in ravines or coves along streams, but likely to be found in all but the driest habitats between 300 and 1500 m (even occurring in peaty bogs, where it has a sickly yellow color and short life expectancy); in the western piedmont of NC limited to progressively rarer microhabitats (primarily north-facing river bluffs), reaching its eastward limit in NC at a disjunct stand at Hemlock Bluff State Natural Area, Wake County (but uncommon in the piedmont of VA and even present, though rare, in the coastal plain of VA); common (rare in Piedmont south of VA, rare in Coastal Plain in VA only). March-April; September-November. Widespread in ne. North America, south to w. and c. VA, w. and (rarely) c. NC, nw. SC, n. GA, n. AL, TN, KY, IN, WI, and MN. One of the largest trees commonly encountered nowadays in NC, but probably not naturally larger than many other trees -- because of its low timber value, it is often left by loggers. The hemlock woolly adelgic is severely affecting this species. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

Tsuga caroliniana Engelmann, Carolina Hemlock. Mt, Pd (NC, SC, VA): primarily in open forests on ridge tops, rocky bluffs, or gorge walls, generally in drier and rockier sites than T. canadensis, but the two sometimes growing in close proximity or even intermixed in humid gorges; very limited in the western Piedmont, apparently reaching its eastern limit in NC at Hanging Rock State Park, Stokes County, and ranging east to Halifax County in the Piedmont of VA; uncommon (rare in piedmont). March-April; August-September. T. caroliniana is a rather narrow Southern Appalachian endemic, occurring only in w. NC, e. TN, sw. and sc. VA, nw. SC, and n. GA. Carolina Hemlock has achieved a substantial repute in NC as a Christmas tree, and is finally coming into favor as an ornamental; Coker and Totten (1945) wrote "the Carolina Hemlock is a very beautiful tree in cultivation, perhaps the handsomest of any eastern American conifer, combining in a remarkable way delicacy, symmetry, and strength." The hemlock woolly adelgid threatens this species. [= RAB, C, F, FNA, G, K, S, W, Z]

The folk taxonomy of conifers in our area is an interesting, though tangled, story. The town of Spruce Pine, NC is apparently named for Tsuga canadensis. Spruce Pinnacle in Buncombe County, NC is crowned with old Tsuga caroliniana. Picea rubens and Abies fraseri are called "He Balsam" and "She Balsam" (considered the male and female of a single species), Tamarack Post Office in Watauga County, NC and Tamarack Ridge in Highland County, VA are named for the abundance of Picea rubens in nearby Long Hope Valley! The generally used common name for Juniperus is "cedar," and Chamaecyparis is called "juniper."

Back to Herbarium Homepage.

Flora of the Carolinas and Virginia, Working Draft of 1 January 1997 -- Gymnosperm Key. Alan S. Weakley. The Nature Conservancy, Southeast Regional Office, Southern Conservation Science Department.