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Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Pond pine is a somewhat smaller pine tree, generally growing under 30 meters in height and under a meter in trunk diameter. It is characterized by a clear, symmetrical bole and a small open crown. Like shortleaf pine, young trees of this species are also capable of producing sprouts from the root collar.
Pines have long needle-like leaves that are held in bundles called "fascicles" with a sheath holding the needles together at the base. The first steps toward identifying each species are 1) measuring the length of the needles, 2) counting the number in a fascicle, and 3) measuring the length of the sheath. Be sure to check a few branches to get an average for the whole tree.

On pond pine the needles are usually 13 to 16 cm long, although they can be up to 20 cm. They are generally borne in fascicles of 3, although there can be some fascicles of 2, 4, or even 5. The needles are upright, twisted, and shiny yellowish-green. The sheath is about 1 cm long.

Twigs: The twigs are stout and rigid. They are at first bright green, but become orange-brown. They are sometimes described as "scraggly," giving the whole tree a twisted or deformed look.
Bark: The bark is very dark and scaly when young, becoming yellowish-brown with maturity. It is 1 to 2 inches thick and separated into large, irregular, flattened, and somewhat scaly plates by narrow seams and fissures. Needles and small branchlets commonly sprout from the bark.
All pines are gymnosperms, which means that they reproduce with seeds but do not bear flowers or fruits. All pines are also monoecious, meaning that they bear both seed and pollen cones in separate structures on the same plant. The seeds cones can be "serotinous" (meaning that they remain closed at maturity and only open in response to a fire) or they can be "nonserotinous" (meaning that they open to release the seeds as soon as they are mature).

On pond pine, the pollen cones are about 3 cm long and yellow, occasionally with a purplish tinge.

The young seed cones are greenish-yellow, sometimes tinged with pink, and can be solitary or in whorls of 3. Mature seed cones are 5-8 cm long, narrow-conical, and aging from light brown to gray. The exposed part of each scale forms a diamond shape that is crossed by a distinct ridge with a fragile, brittle prickle in the middle. As the specific epithet for this species should tell you, the seed cones on pond pine are serotinous and they remain closed and persist on the tree for several years until they open with fire.

Seeds: The seeds of pond pine are 4-6 mm, with an attached wing adding 15-20 mm.

Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:

There are four pine species on our list:

  • Loblolly Pine has needles in fascicles of three. The needles are four to nine inches long.
  • Longleaf Pine has needles in fascicles of three or occasionally four. The needles are eight to 18 inches long.
  • Pond Pine has needles in fascicles of three or occasionally four. The needles are four to eight inches long.
  • Slash Pine has needles in fascicles of two or occasionally three. The needles are five to 12 inches long.

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