My grandfather and my mother never drank any alcohol on purpose. However they taught me a catchy little poem written as a toast to North Carolina. (Here's to the land of the long leaf pine, the summer land where the sun doth shine, where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great, here's to down home the old North State.) I often imagine travelers from long ago sitting in a tavern toasting `The Land of the Long Leaf Pine'. The poem really doesn't fit Cabarrus County. There are very few longleaf pines growing here. I figure the author was from the Sandhills area of the state where long leaf pines predominate. If a person traveled west from places like Fort Bragg and Southern Pines they would find longleaf pines plentiful until they got to Highway 220. Going west toward Cabarrus County they would lose the long leaf pines on the first hill past 220. There are a few scattered populations farther west. There is a stand of longleaf pines on Highway 109 near West Montgomery High School. There is one individual longleaf tree near Yates Campground in the Uwharrie Forest which looks native, although it may have been planted. There are longleaf pines near Burrage road that could be native.   I have heard rumors of native long leaf pines in Rowan County.

Longleaf pines are beautiful trees in large settings. There is one in the cemetery on North Church Street that looks spectacular in some snow storms. We also have some planted near the entrance to the farmers market.

The two growing at the farmers market highlight the major disadvantage of longleaf pines over other pines. Originally there were 11 planted and only 2 made it out of the grass stage. In their native sandhills they sit in the grass stage where they can survive wildfires for several years before they start growing. When landscaping I generally want something that works more often than 1 time out of 5.

Once the traveler gets to the Little River basin which is about 60 miles east of Cabarrus County they would find the dominate species of pines is the loblolly. While this is a native plant a lot of what you see is planted plantations. This is the darling of the commercial forest industry. It will grow the fastest. When you are tying up resources for 35 years, fast is important. The quality is not as good as the longleaf or the old growth shortleaf but nobody gets paid for quality when selling timber anyway. I think the loblolly looks best of the pine trees which will grow well in Cabarrus County. It is more susceptible to breakage in ice storms than some of the others and will self shade worse. I use the term self shading to describe the normal process of losing lower limbs.

Another pine which evidently grows very well across the piedmont and the mountains of the state is the Virginia Pine. Virginia Pine is not a favorite of mine. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. I can't think of any reason not to like it. However, I'm in pretty good company because a lot of other people don't like the Virginia pine either. In the mountains this plant is called spruce pine and hickory pine among other things. The first name is probably a reference to the growth pattern and the other is probably a reference to how hard it is to break the limbs. (There is another pine growing in the lower coastal plains of South Carolina which has a better claim to the term spruce pine. That is one of the problems with common names.) The Virginia pine will grow slower than loblolly and will keep limbs down to the ground better. When making recommendations for screening material at the airport, I suggested 2 rows of Virginia pines at wide spacing to block the low view. These would keep lower limbs longer than the loblolly. I suggested 3 rows of loblolly pines to block the high view. They would grow higher quicker.

From the Little River basin traveling west our traveler loses the loblolly pines by the time he gets to Concord. I'm not sure where or why the transition takes place. Loblollys continue as far west as Rock Hill in South Carolina. The dominate native pine in Cabarrus county is the shortleaf pine although there is plenty of native Virginia pine and several stands of planted loblolly around. The loblolly pines have three needles to a bundle. The Virginia pine has 2. The shortleaf pine may have 2 or 3 needles in each bundle. One of the simple methods to figure out the difference between the Virginia Pine and the Shortleaf pine is to look for a twist in the needles. If there is a definite twist it is a Virginia pine. There is also a difference in the bark and limb growth patterns between a Virginia and shortleaf pine.

Although the shortleaf pine is adapted across the piedmont and the coastal plains it really doesn't have much going for it. I know I have never recommended it.

If our traveler continued toward the west, somewhere around Polk County they would start to notice a very beautiful native pine called the white pine.


Pines are a plant I associate with the south. One reason loblolly pines don't reseed in places farther north is the spring temperatures of less than 70 degrees when the pine is pollinating. One of the places with unreliable spring temperatures is Fort Knox. I spent several weeks there during basic training with out seeing a single pine. As I was flying back to Raleigh/Durham airport in the dark, the first thing I could definitely identify as home was loblolly pines silhouetted against the sky. I knew I was in the right place. In fact, if you chop the state up into bands roughly 100 miles across, they would each have a different set of pines. On the coast there are slash and longleaf pines. Farther west there is the longleaf pines. Once you leave the longleaf pines you find loblollies to be dominant. In Cabarrus County the shortleaf pine is dominant. To the west another 100 miles you find the white pine. Actually, there was a single white pine growing in the woods near Mooresville highway in the northern part of the county. It was growing wild; however there would be not way to tell if it meets a strict interpretation of native. There are native white pines in the upper part of Iredell County. Polk County is probably a lot better description of the eastern boundary of the white pine, if it wasn't for a small stand near Chapel Hill. For people familiar with the white pine this seems like a tall tale. White pines are notorious for dying in hot wet soils. Here in Cabarrus County the white pines will normally live 7 to 20 years before dying from root rot disease. How do the ones over near Orange County survive to reproduce? Scientists are not really sure. First of all they are on a deep cleft caused by a river. This naturally shades the ground and keeps the soil cooler. The walls of the canyon keep the ground cooler. In addition, scientists speculate there may be a genetic advantage in this population.

There are quite a few planted white pines in Cabarrus County. Identifying the white pine is simple. There are 5 needles in a bundle. This is the only pine I know of in Cabarrus County which has 5 needles per bundle. (You can't take that knowledge very far. The literature list several pines with five needles per bundle including Korean Pine, Japanese White Pine and others. I saw a five-needled pine out west called the limber pine because the limbs are limber enough to tie in knots).  From a distance the white pine has a great color. This would make a wonderful mixture with trees with yellow fall foliage like the ginkgo or the sugar maples. They are also fairly quick growing ornamentals.

The disease which causes white pines to die when only 7 to 20 years of age is a root disorder. It is worse in warmer soils and in wetter soils. There are some places across the county where they live closer to a normal life span. These spots are in deep well drained soils. At the farmers market we had several white pines across the front lawn. The two in the worse spots died at about 7 years from transplanting. The next one is now dying at 12 years. We have several more which seem to be in perfect health.

Given their short life, it would be best not to plant white pines in rows where a premature death would be easily noticeable. Mt Pleasant Elementary has a group of white pines growing on a south west exposure. A south west facing hill is the hottest exposure. They have the advantage of being on fill dirt which is deeper and better drained than surrounding soils. This advantage isn't enough to keep the white pines from dying on a regular basis. Some have been dying out for the last 10 years. However, since these pines are on a scattered random basis the gaps are not noticeable. I don't recommend planting white pines in a single straight row.

Since the white pines are scattered in Cabarrus County, they have less insect pressure than populations farther west. In fact I have never seen white pine aphids. I understand they are common farther west. I have seen adelgids. These are white fuzzy insects which cover the bark. They will damage a white pine if left untreated. The best treatment is to use horticultural oil. Commercial applicators can use brand names like Ultra Fine or Sun Spray. There are various brand names for homeowners. Make sure the product you use is not dormant oil. The horticultural oils are new formulations that take the place of both dormant oils and summer oils. Also be sure pines are listed on the label. Even then it is best to just treat the bark area where the adelgids are congregated.

The most common call I receive after root rot and adelgids involves the old leaves. Some years they turn a yellow color before they fall. Needles on white pines last for two years before falling. If the needles on the part of the stem away from the tips start turning yellow it is not a problem.

There are numerous cultivars of white pines. I have seen the weeping white pine which I think is beautiful. There are also dwarf, contorted, narrow upright and rounded types. Given the typical short life of white pines I doubt these cultivars will ever be that popular in Cabarrus County. However, we plant numerous plants like geraniums and marigold with even shorter life spans. So if you really want a certain plant don't let somebody else talk you out of it.

Article was written by David Goforth Agriculture Extension agent North Carolina Cooperative Extension Cabarrus County Center.  Visit my homepage or or my blog

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