Florida is a veritable treasure trove of flora, and not just of the tropical variety. A number of native pine trees also thrive in Florida's mild climate. The pines serve several purposes in Florida including for wildlife habitat and commercially for lumber, paper, Christmas trees and holiday decor.
The slash pine is the most widespread pine tree in Florida and is often mistaken for another native pine, the longleaf pine. The slash pines grow from the western panhandle to the tip of the peninsula and the Keys. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, the slash pine can be identified by its large, flat bark plates and large "brooms" of needles, which are 5 to 11 inches long. The slash pine is grown for its wood and pulp.
Florida's other most common pine tree variety is the longleaf pine. The tree, which can grow up to 80 feet and higher, is the longest lived of Florida pine trees. Longleaf pines have a tall straight trunk, with orange scaly bark. The needles are long like the slash pine and are glossy. The native tree also boasts large cones and purplish flower clusters in the spring and can be found throughout the state. The longleaf has been used for ship's masts.
The spruce pine is short-needled with grayish bark and small cones. The native pine, found in woodlands, hardwood hammocks and along stream banks, is shade-tolerant and can grow up to 90 feet. Spruce pines also have yellow flower clusters at the end of their branches in the spring and up to 2-inch cones, which are found in clusters.
Found in both the Atlantic and Gulf coastal and inland dune ridges, the sand pine grows to a height of approximately 40 feet. There are two types of sand pine in Florida, the Ocala sand pine and the Choctawatchee strain, which is a good choice for a Christmas tree. The sand pine closely resembles the spruce pine, as they both have the smooth, gray bark. The trunk and branches of the sand pine are often twisted.
The shortleaf pine is found in natural stands in northern Florida and mixed hardwood stands. Growing up to 100 feet, the shortleaf pine's bark is quite distinctive with flat, broad, red-brown rectangular plates. The native tree's needles are yellow-green, 2 to 5 inches long and grow in bunches of two to three and its cones are about 2 inches and make good holiday directions.
Oft confused with slash pine, the lobolly pine can grow up to 110 feet, with long (6- to 10-inch) needles. The IFAS Extension states that the lobolly's branches in the crown spread out, giving it a drooping appearance. It is also the fastest growing southern pine and is widespread throughout Florida.
The pond pine is found scattered throughout the panhandle and southern central Florida and can be confused with lobolly pines. The extension service notes on its website that tufts of needles and twigs growing on the tree trunk help easily identify the pond pine. The native pine's needles are 4 to 8 inches long and grow in bunches of three and four. The tree has numerous short branches, a twisted trunk and top-shaped cones.