Pinus rigida Mill.

Range and Habitat

The native range of pitch pine. (From Little, 1971.)

Geographic Range

According to Little and Garrett (1990) : "Pitch pine grows over a wide geographical range--from central Maine to New York and extreme southeastern Ontario, south to Virginia and southern Ohio, and in the mountains to eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, and western South Carolina. Because it grows mostly on the poorer soils, its distribution is spotty. In the Northeast, pitch pine is most common on the sandy soils of Cape Cod, Long Island, and southeastern New Jersey, and in some sections of sandy or shallow soils in Pennsylvania."

The form of pitch pine varies greatly from area to area. In the New Jersey Pine Plains, dwarf trees are characteristicly less than 3.5 m (12 ft) tall, while in Pennsylvania, trees may grow to 30 m (100 ft) tall. Site and soil conditions, as well as fire, play an important role in growth and form of pitch pine throughout its natural range.


According to Little and Garrett (1990) : "The climate in the range of pitch pine is humid. Average annual precipitation is usually between 940 and 1420 mm (37 and 56 in) and is well distributed throughout the year. Length of the frost-free season ranges from 112 to 190 days and temperatures range from winter lows of -40° C (-40° F) in the northern part of the range to summer highs of more than 38° C (100° F) in most sections."

Soils and Topography

According to Little and Garrett (1990) : "Pitch pine is usually restricted to the less fertile soils--those of shallow depth, or of sandy or gravelly texture. Many of the northern stands are found on sandy outwash plains of glacial origin. The species also occupies sandy and gravelly soils of alluvial and marine origin. In the highlands of northern New Jersey, southern New York, Pennsylvania, and south through the mountains, it is most common on steep slopes, ridges, and plateaus where the soils are are shallow.

"Generally, pitch pine grows on Spodosols, Alfisols, Entisols, and Utisols. In southern New Jersey, the pH of the A and B horizons range from 3.5 to 5.1 and in northern New Jersey, from 4 to 4.5. Pitch pine grows on sites with a wide range of moisture conditions. In southern New Jersey it is found on excessively drained, imperfectly drained, and poorly drained sands and gravels, as well as on muck soils in the white-cedar swamps. Even in the hilly regions it grows on both well drained and excessively drained slopes and in the swamps.

"In New England it is most common in the coastal districts and in river valleys. In New York it is not common above 610 m (2,000 ft), but in Pennsylvania it grows at all elevations up to the highest point in the state 979 m (3,213 ft). In the Great Smoky Mountains and vicinity, pitch pine is found at elevations between 430 and 1370 m (1,400 and 4,500 ft). In hilly sections, pitch pine often occupies the warmer and drier sites, those facing south or west."

Forest Associates

According to Little and Garrett (1990) : "Pitch pine is the major component of the forest cover type Pitch Pine (Society of American Foresters Type 45) and is listed as an associate in nine other types: Eastern White Pine (Type 21), Bear Oak (Type 43, Chestnut Oak (Type 44), White Pine-Chestnut Oak (Type 51), White Oak-Black Oak-Norhtern Red Oak (Type 52), Shortleaf Pine (Type 75), Virginia Pine-Oak (Type 78), Virginia Pine (Type 79), and Atlantic White-Cedar (Type 97). In addition to the species named in the types, pitch pine associates are Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens), gray birch (Betula populifolia), post oak (Quercus stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), southern red oak (Q. falcata), various hickories (Carya spp.), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), red maple (Acer rubrum), and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).

"Usually, the most common shrubs growing with pitch pine on upland sites are lowbush blueberries (often Vaccinium vacillans or V. angustifolium) and black huckleberry and dangleberry (Gaylussacia bacata and G. frondosa). Some stands include bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia), dwarf chinkapin oak (Q. prinoides), and mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

"Lowland sites where pitch pine predominates have a variety of shrubs. Common ones include sheep-laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), staggerbush (Lyonia mariana), inkberry (Ilex glabra), dangleberry, highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and swamp-honeysuckle (Rhododendron viscosum)."

Habitat Competition

According to Little and Garrett (1990) : "Pitch pine is intolerant of shade. On swamp sites, it is less tolerant than Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), and on poorly drained or upland sites it is less tolerant than its common hardwood associates-blackgum, red maple, various oaks, and hickories.

"In view of its relatively low tolerance and its requirement of mineral soil for germiniation, pitch pine can best be maintained in stands by even-aged management with seedbed preparation and control of competing hardwoods.

"Fire has been largely responsible for maintaining pitch pine type and also has been responsible for the sprout origin, comparatively slow growth, and poor form that characterize this species. One severe fire may eliminate nonsprouting associates such as white pine (Pinus strobus); repeated severe fires may eliminate such species as shortleaf pine (P. echinata) and white oak (Quercus alba) which do not produce seed at as early an age as pitch pine and bear oak."


According to Little and Garrett (1990) : "When pitch and shortleaf pines grow together, natural crossing may occasionally occur. Trees with intermediate characteristics have been seen in southern New Jersey, and similar trees have been reported in southern Pennsylvania.

"At Placerville, CA, the Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station crossed pitch pine with shortleaf, pond, Table Mountain, and loblolly pines. Pitch × loblolly hybrids (P. × rigitaeda) are produced in large quantities in South Korea for commercial plantings. Early field trials in Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey showed only slight promise. With more careful selection of parent trees and extensive screening trials, the Northeastern Forest Experiment Station produced hybrids with exceptionally fast growth, good form, and witner hardiness for much of the natural range of pitch pine."

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