White pine (Pinus strobus) was an important tree species during the early establishment of the United States. It was used to construct the warships built in the King’s Navy Yards on the Great Lakes. The trees’ tall and straight trunks were prized for ship masts in the colonial period. History has it that the seeds were introduced in England (where it is called Weymouth Pine) from Maine in 1605 by a captain in the British Navy.
The white pine is the largest northeastern conifer and can reach a height of 150 feet (46m). As the tree matures one row of horizontal branches are added each year. The needles are clustered in fives and are 6-12 cm long. They are retained until the autumn of their second year, so that the tree goes into winter with only one year’s growth of needles. White pines can live for over 400 years, and 200 year-old trees are common.
Barns often built in the last quarter of the 19th century were covered with boards of white pine. When these barns fell, the weathered pine boards were often salvaged, brought indoors, and prized for their rugged textural beauty.