Tree of the Month: This Little Shore Pine

Monday, September 27, 2021

Shore Pine tree photo by Boni Biery
By Boni Biery 

I have a tree in my yard that I used to just call a Shore Pine, but it turns out this tree (the small one, with the curving trunk and loaded with "flowers” in the middle) is just one of several subspecies of Lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta) that share the name Shore Pine. 

So, I have learned that to be sure I name it correctly I need to use its botanical name to separate it from the others. 

It is actually a Pinus contorta ssp. contorta. This NW native grows from southern Alaska along the coast into northern California. 

These are tough, adaptable trees and will survive in wetter sites than other pine trees so long as they have enough sunlight. 

They also have a very high tolerance for salt spray and are often seen growing near our salty beaches with each tree maturing to its own twisting (contorta), picturesque shape.

These beautiful, native trees seldom exceed 35-50 feet in height. They have dark brown, scaly bark and can be further identified by their relatively short, often twisted needles in bunches of two needles each.

Just imagine, this one, small to medium-sized evergreen is a veritable grocery store for a whole community of creatures.

Some of the birds in my yard known to enjoy the cones are: crossbills, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, bushtits, siskins and kinglets. They forage through the cones in search of seed and insect treasures depending on their needs. And of course, the squirrels forage the cones for seeds too.

Each spring the male “flowers” are initially cheerful, pale yellow packets of pollen in clusters near the tips of the old growth branches. The female flowers are little, dark purple cone-shaped formations that will mature into 1-2” cones borne in either pairs or clusters which point backward toward the trunk.

Pinus Contorta. Photo by Robert L. Carr

The Pinus contorta var. contorta is also a larval host plant for our native Western Pine Elfin butterfly. Eggs are laid at the base of young needles; caterpillars feed on young needles and catkins. Chrysalis overwinters and adults emerge in spring as butterflies. These then move on to a number of flowers that serve as “host plants” for nectar.

While I have not seen this butterfly nor its eggs, I like knowing that it would have place to live should it fly into my yard.

Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon).
Photo by David 
Droppers, WA Butterfly Association

In addition to all of this, this tree has long hosted red-breasted sapsucker(s) as confirmed by the tell-tale rows of sap-wells made by them that go ‘round and ‘round the trunk. While I never see more than one sapsucker at a time, the sap “wells” help to feed many. The sticky sap wells themselves offer food plus they entrap insects that small birds, including our hummers, eat.

Red-Breasted Sapsucker. Photo by Daniel Fitzgerald

How fortunate I am to have this tree and all of its wildlife visitors to observe, and I know that my human neighbors like it too. If you have the space, I encourage you to plant one. They are well positioned to be successful as our climate grows warmer. The birds will surely thank you.

Boni Biery is a Habitat Steward, Native Tree Advocate, and Hillwood Resident

Save Shoreline Trees is a community non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of our tall native trees.


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