Eastern white pine is a large tree with a pyramidal crown when young, becoming flattened or broadly rounded with age.
Leaves are needles, 3–5 inches long, in bundles of 5; slender, straight, soft, flexible, blue-green, undersurface of needles lined with white pores.
Bark is green or gray, thin, smooth on young trees; becoming thick, brown to black, deeply grooved, with broad, scaly ridges.
Twigs are slender, flexible, green becoming brown with age.
Conifers do not technically "flower," but pollen is shed March–May.
Fruits September–October, maturing the second year, persisting on the branches. Cones woody, in clusters of 1–5, hanging, slightly curved, cylindrical, 4–8 inches long, green turning light brown; scales numerous, thin, not spine-tipped, often with sticky resin.
Similar species: Missouri has only one native pine species, the shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). The other five pines included in our flora are nonnative species that are commonly planted in timber plantations, for wildlife habitat, for erosion control, or as ornamentals. These species frequently produce cones and reproduce themselves within their populations, so they can become naturalized locally; therefore, they are counted as part of our state's flora. In addition to eastern white pine, these are:
- Austrian pine (P. nigra)
- Jack pine (P. banksiana)
- Loblolly pine (P. taeda)
- Scrub pine (P. virginiana).
Other pines are grown only as ornamentals or on Christmas tree farms and do not reproduce on their own, so they are not considered part of our flora; these include ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), red pine (P. resinosa), and Scotch pine (P. sylvestris).
The bottom line is, unless you are at an old home site or at a place where the nonnative pines have been cultivated and might persist on a local scale, the only type of pine you will encounter in the wild in Missouri is almost always the shortleaf pine.