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Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain Pines

posted Oct 28, 2012, 10:55 AM by Kathy Schlosser

Visitors to Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks, as well as to the Sauratown Trail, are surrounded by  pine trees.  Within that abundance are five varieties, or species, of the genus Pinus that are found in the Piedmont. 

 Most common in the Piedmont are loblolly (not on the records for either Park), shortleaf, and Virginia pines.  Less common, though often used in gardens and landscapes, is the Eastern white pine.  Uncommon to rare are Table Mountain pine and pitch pine.   Table Mountain pines generally grow on xeric, south facing ridges between 1,000 and 4,000 feet elevation. There are also some outlying populations associated with isolated mountain ranges of the Piedmont, including Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock.

 A few simple ways to distinguish one species from another are found on the following two pages.

 Pitch, by the way, refers to a polymer distilled from the bark and wood of pitch pines, a process which requires the destruction of trees.  Pitch (which can also be made from petroleum products), was used for waterproofing ships, buckets, barrels, and small boats.  Pitch and tar are terms used interchangeably, but pitch is more solid, tar more liquid.

~ Kathy Schlosser
   other than as noted, phots by Kathy Schlosser

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) - common in the mountains, occasionally found in the Piedmont, and frequently planted in landscapes.  Distinguished by having 5 needles/leaves in a fascicle (bundle). The pliable leaves are bluish-green and have a white stripe running down their length.

The cones are elongate and lack prickles.

The dark gray-brown bark is smooth on small and medium-sized trees. The bark of larger trees is dark gray-brown and broken into regular plates. Remnants of old branches are retained for many years.



Virginia Pine

(Pinus virginiana) -  common in the mountains and Piedmont, rare in the coastal plain.  Virginia pine is found on poorer, drier sites than the other native pines.  The female cones are the smallest of all the pines in North Carolina. 

Easily told from other native pines except for Table Mountain pine (P. pungens) by its short leaves with 2 yellow-green, twisted needles in each fascicle. The small cones help separate Virginia Pine from Table Mountain Pine, which has stout ovoid cones.  The reddish-brown bark is broken into small plates on mature trees. The bark on young trees is more reddish and flaky. Old dead branches usually remain embedded in the trunk. Those of most other pines in North Carolina fall off and disappear in time.  Trees tend to be small for a pine and scraggly, not growing straight.


Not reported at PIMO or HARO, but one of the most common elsewhere in the Piedmont:

Loblolly Pine  (Pinus taeda) -  common in the Piedmont and the coastal plain.  A large tree of all but the driest areas -- probably the most common tree in the eastern half of North Carolina, often colonizing old fields.

The leaves are about 15-20 cm long and usually have 3-4 needles in a fascicle. 

Female loblolly pine cones are larger than those of shortleaf and Virginia, smaller than those of Longleaf, and they have stout prickles.  The bark on medium-sized trees is dark gray-brown, deeply furrowed, and blocky.

Chris Evans,  Illinois Wildlife Action Plan , forestryimages.org


Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens) -  uncommon in the mountains, and rare in the Piedmont, it is found on Pilot Mountain. Tends to be short and squat,  with many arching branches. The prickles on the cones are very stout. Cones are attached directly to the branches.  Like the more common and widespread Virginia Pine, the leaves are short and come two in a fascicle, but the large, stout, ovoid female cones are quite different from the smaller cones of Virginia Pine.  Cones are usually clustered.

The bark on branches is reddish-brown and flaky.  The bark on trunks is dark gray-brown and scaly.


Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) - common in the mountains and Piedmont, occasionally in the coastal plain. Most abundant in dry sites, but also found in moister habitats. The leaves are about 7-13 cm long, shorter than those of loblolly pine (P. taeda) and longer than those of Virginia pine (P. virginiana), though there is some overlap. There are normally 2 or 3 leaves to a bundle.

Cones are about 4-7 cm long. The prickles are small and weak.

The bark on large trees tends to be flakier and less deeply furrowed than that of loblolly pine. There usually are small spots of resin on the bark, lacking in our other pine species.  The scaly bark of a mature tree is dark gray-brown.  Scales of old bark shed to reveal reddish-brown younger bark



 Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) -  uncommon in the mountains, and rare in the Piedmont, pitch pine grows in Pilot Mountain.  It  is similar to loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), but has broader cones, resinous buds, and sprouts needles and short branches directly from the trunk.  Pond Pine (Pinus serotina) of the Coastal Plain also does this, but the two do not overlap in range.