Pinus resinosa

Red Pine

Red Pine

Red Pine
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Pinus, from the Greek, pitus (pitys), "pine or fir tree"
  • resinosa, from the Latin, "very resinous"
  • Common Name from color of bark.
  • Other common names include Norway Pine, pin rouge, pin à résine, pin résineux, pin de Norvège (Qué)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Coniferophyta, the Conifers
      • Class Pinopsida
        • Order Pinales
          • Family Pinaceae, the Pines, Spruce, and Firs
            • Genus Pinus, the Pines
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 183375
  • Little genetic variation; one of the most homogeneous pine species


  • Bark light red-brown, furrowed and cross-checked into irregularly rectangular, scaly plates.
  • Needles evergreen, in clusters of 2, slender, 4"-6" long, dark green, borne in dense tufts at the ends of the branchlets; snap easily when bent double.
  • Cones, about 2" long, without prickles, nearly stalkless, remain attached until the following year.
  • Branches: One horizontal whorl develops each year.
  • In closed stands, has a straight, limbless trunk for almost 3/4 length and an oval crown. In open stands, branches are retained for almost the full length of the tree and are horizontally spreading or somewhat drooping.
  • Height of 70'-80' on good sites, reaching almost 150'.
  • Age to almost 400 years.
  • Roots very windfirm. Seedlings develop 6"-18" taproots in the first growing season. Older trees develop a widespreading and moderately deep root system. If unhindered by competition, the longest lateral roots may extend 40' beyond the crown. Vertical roots may penetrate to 15'.


  • One of three native pines.
  • Distinguished from White Pine (Pinus strobus) by having needles in clusters of two.
  • Distinguished from Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) by its longer needles and larger cones.


  • Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; Prince Edward Island; New Brunswick; southern Quebec; and Maine to central Ontario and southeast Manitoba; south to southeast Minnesota; and east to Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and the New England States.


  • Occurs on outwash plains, level or gently rolling sand plains, and low ridges adjacent to lakes and swamps; also mountain slopes and hilltops. Often grows on very exposed sites including islands, peninsulas, east shores of lakes, and steep slopes. It withstands dehydrating winter winds better than its tree associates
  • Soils dry sandy, acidic, infertile, but can grow in all types of soils, provided they are well drained. Grows especially well in naturally subirrigated soils (watertable 4'-9' below the surface) with well-aerated surface layers.
  • Shade intolerant. Rates 2.4 in tolerance on a scale of 0-10, compared with aspens at 0.7 and Eastern Hemlock at 10. Of its associates, only Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), Aspens (Populus spp), and Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), are less shade tolerant. Red Pine succeeds these shorter lived, less tolerant species and is, in turn, succeeded by more shade-tolerant trees including White Pine (Pinus strobus), White Spruce (Picea glauca), and Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea).
  • On coarse, infertile sands, may be a long-persisting subclimax species. Natural stands are very open, and Red Pine reproduces in some of these parklike stands. In extremely windswept areas may persist indefinitely because few other species can survive on these sites
  • Often codominant with White Pine (Pinus strobus) or Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana).


  • Fire in the boreal forest at the northern edge of native range is characterized by crown fires and high-severity surface fires. Red Pine is resticted to lake landscapes or rough topography at its northern limits because these natural fire breaks permit some mature trees to survive.
  • The typical fuel supply under Red Pine stands is an organic layer 2"-4" deep, a continuous needle layer, a moderate herb and shrub layer, and a moderately dense understory. Ground fires spread slowly. Dry windy conditions are required for fires to crown and have a high rate of spread.
  • Red Pine litter is less compact and less dense than Jack Pine litter because of its long and curved needles. Thus, the drying rate and potential combustion rate is higher than that of Jack Pine.
  • Fire resistant. Mature trees survive fire because they have thick bark, branch-free trunks, a moderately deep rooting habit, and often occur in moderately open stands.
  • Fire is necessary for regeneration because it prepares a seedbed, opens up the canopy by killing some trees, and reduces brush and understory species which shade out and compete with seedlings
  • The natural fire regime in Red Pine forests is one of alternating stand replacing fires and nonlethal fires. Low and moderate severity fires occur at 20-40 year intervals, and high-severity fires at 150-200 years. Most moderate-severity fires do not kill canopy trees. The high-severity fires kill trees and create openings in the stand, ideal for regeneration.
  • Complete absence of fire will eventually eliminate Red Pine, as will frequent, stand-replacing fires.


  • Trees: Most tree associates, excepting Jack Pine, White Pine, and Aspen, grow as understory.
    • On coarse, dry soils: Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)
    • On fine to loamy sands: Oaks (Quercus spp.), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), and Black Spruce (Picea mariana).
    • On sandy loam to loam: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), White Ash (Fraxinus americana), White Spruce (Picea glauca), White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), American Basswood (Tilia americana), Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
  • Shrubs: Many understory shrub associates of red pine are shade intolerant but can persist in open red pine stands: Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), American Hazel (Corylus americana), Beaked Hazel (Corylus cornuta), Low Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens), Twinflower (Linnaea borealis), Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila), Raspberries (Rubus spp.), Prairie Willow (Salix humilis), Spireas (Spirea spp.), Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium myrtilloides)
  • Herbs: Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), Large Leaf Aster (Aster macrophyllus), Blue Bead Lily (Clintonia borealis), Mocasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule),Greater Rattlesnake Orchid (Goodyera tesselata), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), Cow Wheat (Melampyrum linare), Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum), Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus roseus), Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
  • Ground Covers: Dicranum Mosses (Dicranum spp.), Clubmosses (Lycopodium spp.), Schreber's Feathermoss (Pleurozium schreberi), Hair Cap Moss (Polystrichum commune)
  • Mammals: Stands provide cover, nesting sites, and food for many species of birds and mammals. If preferred food is lacking, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, and cottontails will browse seedlings. Moose show moderate preference for Red Pine browse in the winter when other browse is dormant. Mice and chipmunks feed on the seeds.
  • Birds: Bald eagles typically build nests below the top of the crown in living Red Pine. Songbirds feed on the seeds.


  • Was forced south during the last Ice Age, where it became a part of the Jack Pine forest which covered much of the southeastern states, from the Mississippi Valley out onto the Continental Shelf.
  • Began leaving the southeast, along with Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), about 15,000 years ago, arriving in Minnesota about 10,700 years ago, where it infiltrated the southern edge of the White Spruce forest, itself moving northward, following the receding ice sheets.


  • Wood moderately hard and straight grained. Used primarily for structural timber and pulpwood; also suitable for poles, piling, mining timbers, and railroad ties because it is easily penetrated by preservatives.
  • Once the most important timber pine in the Great Lakes region
  • "Norway Pine" is the state tree of Minnesota


  • Reproduces by seed
  • Minimum seed-bearing age in open stands is 15-25 years and in closed stands 50-60. Seed production best in trees 50-150 years of age. Large seed crops once every 3-7 years with light crops in intervening years.
  • Winged seeds are lightweight and disseminated by wind. Effective dispersal range averages 40 ' from the source tree, but seeds may be carried up to 900 '.
  • Seedlings establish on mineral soil exposed by fire. (Seeds may germinate, but seedlings do not establish beneath dense brush, on heavy litter or sod, or on a recent burn with a heavy cover of ash.) Best conditions are a fine sand seedbed, thin moss or litter, partial shade, abundant precipitation, and a water table within 4 ' of the soil surface.
  • Seedling establishment is satisfactory in 35% full sunlight but is uncertain in levels of light less than 17%. Seedling height growth increases with increasing light.
  • After one growing season, seedling height is often less than 1 "and growth continues to be slow for 4-5 years. Usually takes 4-10 years to reach 4.5 '. Thereafter, height growth may average 1' per year.
  • Cones develop over two growing seasons. After development begins in midsummer, cones become dormant until the following spring. Pollination occurs in late May or early June, and cones continue to grow until late summer. Fertilization occurs the following summer, approximately 13 months after pollination. Cones ripen in early autumn and seeds are dispersed in October and November. Germination occurs the following spring or early summer.
  • Because trees do not bear seed until 15-25 years of age at the earliest, a fire-free interval of at least 20-40 years is required for regeneration.
  • Fire provides conditions necessary for regeneration, specifically a bare or lightly covered mineral seedbed free of brushy competition and an open canopy. A thick organic layer is an unfavorable seedbed because seedlings are farther from a constant water supply and the mineral soil.
  • Seeds require cold stratification to break dormancy.


  • By seed, following cold stratification.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Full sun
    • Well-drained, sandy loam soil, pH 4.5 - 6.5
    • Medium to dry moisture
  • Size 20'-40'W x 80'H
  • Growth rate moderately rapid
  • Very cold tolerant and withstands poor soils, but does not like salty soils. It does well in breaks and grove plantings.
  • On older trees the bark forms diamond-shaped, scaly plates and the symmetrical, oval crown can climb to 100' tall.
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries



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Last updated on 4 March, 2006