Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a native evergreen tree that once covered much of northeastern North America. It has a long and fascinating history and continues to thrive in wooded areas around Medford, throughout New England forests and beyond.
White pine is a very fast-growing tree that often reaches heights of 80 to 100 feet. (By comparison, a typical three-story home might be around 40 feet in height.) Typically, they have straight trunks, with symmetrical, horizontal branches and uplifted tips. Needles grow in bundles of five, are green to bluish-green, soft and pliable.
White pines have both male and female cones. The male cones are very small, and in spring produce pollen that is yellow, powdery, and often shows up on our cars, walkways, outdoor furniture, etc. After the male cones release their pollen to fertilize the female cones, the male cones drop from the tree and look a lot like “Rice Krispies”. The female cones persist and eventually produce seeds, which are released and dispersed by wind. The seeds provide important food for native wildlife.
Native Americans are said to have called white pine the “Tree of Peace”. Legend says that an Iroquois leader invoked white pine as a symbol for unification of five tribes, in reference to its 5-needle bundles, and in diplomacy toward Westerners.
White pine played a huge but often unrecognized role in the American Revolution. Colonists revered these magnificent trees, which provided lumber to build ships, homes, barns, fences, furniture, tools and other necessities. Also, the trade value of white pine to Europe was only surpassed by the fur trade. So, when the colonies began to mint coins, white pine was chosen to be one of the earliest emblems, from 1667 to 1682.
The tall, broad, straight, sturdy but flexible trunks of white pine were irresistible to the British, which at that time had no forests left and coveted “mast pines” for Royal British Navy ships. The king declared ownership of all pines in America over 24 inches in diameter, making it illegal for the colonists to harvest trees of that size, even on their own property. Special teams were sent from England to mark “the King’s trees”, which were harvested and sent by barges back to England. This, of course, did not go over well with the colonists. In 1772, colonists staged the “Pine Tree Riot”, which was an act of rebellion against the British, laying groundwork leading up to the American Revolution shortly thereafter.
The Eastern White Pine in the photo grows above a wall of the parking lot at Medford High School, below the athletic fields. It’s worth a walk or a ride up the hill for a “bird’s eye view” of the tree, with a very pleasant perspective of MHS and the Boston skyline in the distance.
– Aggie Tuden, Medford Tree Warden