Shortleaf pine is a large tree with a long, clear trunk and broad, open crown.
Leaves are needles, from persistent sheaths at the base of the needles; needles in bundles of 2 (sometimes 3), 3–5 inches long, slender, flexible, not twisted, sharp-pointed, dark bluish-green.
Bark is thick, reddish-brown to nearly black, broken into large, irregular, scaly plates.
Twigs are stiff, stout, rough, brittle, green at first turning gray to reddish-brown with age, usually covered with a whitish coating.
"Flowers" (sheds pollen) March–April, with male and female cones found on the same tree; male cones in clusters at the tips of twigs, yellowish-brown to purple, ¾ inch long.
Fruits September–October, maturing the second year, persistent on the branches, a woody cone in clusters of 1–3, hanging, brown, 1½– 2½ inches long, narrowly egg-shaped; scales separating at maturity, tips with sharp, curved spines.
Similar species: Shortleaf pine is Missouri's only native pine species. 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:
- Austrian pine (P. nigra), jack pine (P. banksiana), eastern white pine (P. strobus), loblolly pine (P. taeda), and scrub pine (P. virginiana). These species frequently produce cones and reproduce themselves within their populations, thus they can become naturalized locally and are counted as part of our state's flora.
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.
Habitat and Conservation
Missouri’s shortleaf pine forests provided countless railroad ties for our nation’s expanding transportation network in the early 20th century. Its contribution to the growth of railroads therefore contributed to the growth of our nation's economy.
The wood is also used for general construction, exterior and interior finishing, and pulpwood. Teas made from pines once were used to treat many ailments.
Many old-time Missouri place-names include the word "piney" (for example, the Piney River), reflecting the former prevalence of pine woods in those areas. Linguistically, it also reflected the Ozark settlers' fondness for the "-y" or "-ey" ending for forming adjectives in place-names. Caney, brushy, clifty, and deerey are other examples.
It is hard to place a value on what was once the dominant tree over many thousands of acres, influencing the soils below and defining the character and community of all the plants and animals that lived beneath its canopy.
Many birds and small mammals eat the seeds, and deer browse the new twigs.