Pinus rigida, as described in 1768 by Philip Miller (1691–1771), in The Gardeners Dictionary, 8th edition, number 10, is commonly known as pitch pine; as well as pin rigide in the French language. The species name describes the exceptionally stiff needles.
Ethnobotany. It is considered to be a a low-grade timber species because of the frequency of multiple or crooked trunks. In the past, it was a major source of pitch and timber for ship building, mine timbers, and railroad ties because the wood's high resin content preserves it from decay. Pitch pine wood was also used for building radio towers in Germany, as at Muehlacker and Ismaning.
Archaeology indicates that the Iroquois, Shinnecock, and Cherokee nations all utilized pitch pine. The Iroquois used the pitch to treat rheumatism, burns, cuts, and boils. Pitch also worked as a laxative. A pitch pine poultice was used by both the Iroquois and the Shinnecock to open boils and to treat abscesses. The Cherokee used pitch pine wood in canoe construction and for decorative carvings.
Description. Pitch pine is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 100 feet (31 m); with a straight or crooked trunk up to 36 inches (0.9 m) in diameter, measured at breast height, commonly with adventitious sprouts; crown rounded or irregular.
Bark is red-brown, deeply and irregularly furrowed, with long, irregularly rectangular, flat, scaly ridges, and absent resin pockets.
Branches are arching-spreading to ascending, and poorly self-pruning. Two-year-old branchlets are stout, mostly over 0.2 inch (5 mm) thick, colored orange-brown, aging rough, and darker brown.
Foliar buds are ovoid to ovoid-cylindrically shaped, resinous, colored red-brown, measuring circa 0.4 to 0.6 inch (1 - 1.5 cm); with fringed scale margins and cuspidate apices.
Leaves (needles) are borne 3 (sometimes up to 5) per fascicle, oriented spreading to ascending, persisting 2 to 3 years on the tree. Individual needles measure 2 to 4 inches (5 - 10 cm) by 0.04 to 0.06 inch (1 - 1.5 mm); and grow straight to twisted, colored deep to pale yellow-green. All surfaces bear fine lines of stomata, serrulate margins, and abruptly subulate-acuminate apices.
Foliar sheaths measure 0.36 to 0.48 inch (0.9 - 1.2 cm), with a persistent base.
Pollen cones are cylindrical, and yellow in color, measuring circa (0.8 inch (20 mm).
Seed cones mature 2 years after pollination, shedding seeds soon thereafter or are variably serotinous and long-persistent. They often grow clustered, symmetrically conic to ovoid before opening, broadly ovoid with a flat or slightly convex base when open, measuring 1.2 to 3.6 inches (3 - 9 cm) long, creamy brown to light red-brown in color, sessile to short-stalked, with a truncate base.
Seed scales are firm, with a dark red-brown border on distal adaxial surfaces. Apophyses are slightly raised, with a rhombic outline, and strong transverse keels. Umbos are centrally oriented, shaped low-triangular, with a slender, downcurved prickle.
Seeds are broadly obliquely obovoid-deltoid shaped; with a 0.16 to 0.2 inch (4 - 5 mm) body, colored dark brown, mottled darker, to near black with an attached wing 0.6 to 0.8 inch (15 - 20 mm) long.
Distribution. This species is native to Canada — Ontario and Québec; south through USA — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia; growing on upland or lowland sites on sterile, dry to boggy soils; at elevations from sea level to 4,800 feet (1,400 m).
Hardy to USDA Zone 4 — cold hardiness limit between -30° to -20°F (-34.3°C and -28.9°C).