Pine may be the world's most recognisable evergreen tree. When you think of pine you may think of winter and Christmas trees but it's far more that. Pine is one of the most useful trees on the planet. It provides food, shelter, light and warmth for us and even helps clean our clothes and heal our wounds. For early explorers, a stand of pine trees meant a good chance of survival.
White pine and yellow pine are the two main classes of pinewood. All pine is considered a soft wood. Living trees can be identified by their needles. All pine trees with two or three needles in a bunch are considered yellow pine while trees with five needles in a bunch are white pine. If you are looking at timber, white pine is lightweight, white to pale yellow and smooth. Yellow pine is heavy, medium yellow to brown, and rough with a lot of knots.
White pine is the most sought after pinewood for building and construction. It may be considered a soft wood but it is very durable. It holds its shape well and resists warping, splitting and cracking. White pine is commonly used for foundation and framing construction, boat decking, organ pipes and piano keys. White pine has no equal when it comes to holding stain and paint. Its fine grain makes it a perfect base for enamel paint. This, however, makes it difficult to remove paint and stain.
Yellow or shortleaf pine is softer than white pine. Its colour tends to be darker than that of white pine, as well. Yellow pine is one of the only pines that sprout. If a sapling is killed by fire or broken it will sprout again and form a new tree. Yellow pine is a pitch-forming tree, meaning it contains a high amount of sticky resin or sap. Yellow pine is very knotty and warps easily, making it less desirable for foundation construction than white pine. Yellow pine is commonly used in hardwood flooring and decorative trim. It takes chemical treatment well and is resistant to rot so it commands a higher than average market value.
Species of pine or evergreens can be found all over the world. The polar regions are the only places on earth you will not see a pine tree. In the United Kingdom, native Caledonian pinewoods are limited to northern Scotland. They once covered most of the country but are now limited to the far north.
Since pine is a pitch wood there have been a number of folk medicines and cleaning products made from the pitch. Turpentine is the most recognisable. Pine oil is a well-known cleaner, while pine tar is the main ingredient in some medicated and dandruff shampoos. Pine is good at starting and maintaining fires. The pitch burns easily but slowly. Before the days of lanterns and torches a burning pine knot was carried in metal baskets on the sides of boats to light up the water for gigging fish.