In the Pines

by Nancy Rose
January 17, 2018

In the Pines

pinetum [noun]: a plantation of pine trees; especially: a scientific collection of living coniferous trees

The section of the Arboretum roughly west of Valley Road and north of Hemlock Hill Road is known as the Conifer Collection; it holds many accessions of conifers including pines (Pinus), spruces (Picea), firs (Abies), junipers (Juniperus), yews (Taxus), and larches (Larix). But in the Arboretum’s early decades this area was better known as “The Pinetum” [pdf], a term not often used anymore, perhaps because it could too readily be interpreted as referring only to pines.

map labeled the pinetum

The Conifer Collection was labeled “The Pinetum” on this 1904 map of the Arboretum, which was drawn by Guy Lowell (Charles Sargent’s son-in-law) for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, aka the St. Louis World’s Fair.

The pines in the Conifer Collection and in many other locations throughout the Arboretum are certainly worthy of special attention, though. We have specimens of over 40 species plus dozens of botanical varieties, cultivated varieties, and hybrids. There are a little more than 100 Pinus species widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere (populations of one species, P. merkusii, dip just below the equator in Sumatra).

By number of accessions, the overwhelming leader at the Arboretum is eastern white pine (P. strobus), a majestic North American species with great ornamental, economic, and historical importance. This fast-growing five-needled pine has a mostly northern range from Newfoundland to Minnesota. In New England, the great value of its tall, straight trunks led to tensions between colonists and the British crown leading up to the Revolutionary War. Check out some of our beautiful mature eastern white pines atop Bussey Hill and along Walter Street on the Peters Hill side of the Arboretum.

himalayan white pine needles

Himalayan white pine (Pinus wallichiana, accession 83-94-B) has luxuriantly long needles. Photo by Nancy Rose.

Of the many other interesting pines here, one of my favorites is the Himalayan white pine (P. wallichiana) [pdf] with its long, gracefully cascading needle clusters. While many pines have sort of undistinguished grayish-brownish bark, the aptly named lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) [pdf] has long been treasured for its mottled bark of silvery gray with patches of dark gray, tan, rust, and/or olive green. And anyone who’s visited Cape Cod has probably admired the twisty forms of pitch pine (Pinus rigida), a native species with interesting ecological adaptations [pdf] as well as historical economic value [pdf]. Enjoy these and more as you amble through the Arboretum, and explore pines and other gymnosperms at a Collections Up Close event in the Conifer Collection on Sunday, February 4 from 1:00-3:00pm.

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