A Guide to the Shore Pine

Tag Number: 714

Scientific Name: Pinus contorta

Called contorta because of the unusual shapes it takes on when subjected to the coastal winds.

Common Names

Habitat

Commonly seen within a few miles of the Pacific coastline from Alaska to northern California. Also found just west of the Cascade Mountains.

Morphology

Every duo of needles is twisted at the bottom.

History

Pinus contorta variety contorta is a tree of many forms; in muskeg (acidic soil) and subalpine (areas below where trees are considered capable of growing) locations, it looks like a minature bonsai. In sphagnum (moss) bogs, the trunks of century old trees stretch just 2 inches across. Near the shoreline, its needles are found cowering on one side of the tree, away from the wind. There, trunks and branches alike squirm into positions that would prove painful for all but contortionists. In their fight to survive the merciless conditions, 200 year old trees twist triumphantly at a mere 40 feet tall. The menacing bristles on the cones experience the burden of the costal winds as well. They are rubbed smooth by the salt sprays before releasing their seeds in exasperation. Pinus contorta variety latifolia is found further from the ocean and its cones hold the seeds tightly for years; they only release them under extreme heat from fires. (Interestingly, this variety gets killed by pine beetles about once a decade, which makes them more fire susceptible, allowing younger trees to begin their lives with little competition after the fire has passed through.) The latifolia variety was deemed the Lodgepole Pine by explorers Lewis and Clark when they noted that the Native Americans of the Great Plains used their lankiness to hold their lodges, or teepees, up. Other common names are Black, Spruce, Prickly, Jack, or Tamrac Pine.

Ethnobotany

The Sechelt of British Columbia used its resin to keep water from entering their canoes and baskets. Similarly, the Lower Stl'atl'imx of British Columbia extended the lives of their fish nets with it. Along with the Saanich, they used it as glue for such things as placing arrowheads on the ends of beams. The Nisga'a Indians of British Columbia made the roots into rope, and the Haida of British Columbia and Alaska used the bark as splints for broken bones.

Return to Main Page

Related Images