Pine trees are evergreen, cone-bearing plants native to most of North America. They belong to the genus Pinus, family Pinaceae and phylum Coniferophyta. Pine trees are related to firs, spruces, hemlocks, cypresses and redwoods. For centuries they have held economic, aesthetic and ecological importance. Not only do pine trees provide important products, they beautify our homes and wilderness spaces.
There are about 100 species of pine trees and all are woody plants. They are important economically primarily because their wood is used for timber. This timber is used in construction, furniture, paneling and flooring. Pines also are used for the manufacture of substances such as turpentine, rosin, pulp and paper.
One type of pine tree, the Bristlecone Pine, or Pinus aristata, has an extremely long lifespan, making it useful for scientific study. Its tree rings provide clues to scientists regarding the climate of bygone eras. This pine grows in the mountainous regions of California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. It grows slowly and can live for several thousand years.
Pine trees provide forestation in areas where deciduous trees cannot grow due to extreme elevation and latitude. Siberian dwarf pine, mountain pine and bristlecone pines are examples of pines that grow in environments hostile to other types of trees. They provide habitat and a food source for wildlife in these areas and purify the air.
Pine trees provide food for animals and humans. Their seeds are eaten by squirrels and birds, which distribute the seeds to new areas. Butterflies and moths feed on pine needles. Humans use pine nuts for cooking and baking, sprinkled on salads and as an ingredients in pesto, a pasta sauce. Pine nuts have been consumed by humans since ancient Greek and Roman times.
Pine trees have always had great aesthetic value. They are used in home landscapes and in parks and other public areas. They are grown commercially as Christmas trees. Pine boughs are used as decoration in the wintertime. Pine cones are used as decorations and also in crafts. Some gardeners used pine needles as a mulch in their gardens, especially for acid-loving flowers such as roses.