Pond Pine Plant Profile

Pond Pine Plant Profile

Pond pine tree with short needled branches emerging from trunk.
Pond pines will sprout new needles at any spot where damage occurs.

Edward M. Roqueta / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

The pond pine, Pinus serotina, is also known by the names marsh pine or pocosin pine. The name "serotina" refers to serotiny, which occurs when the tree's closed seed cones open after being exposed to heat or fire. This tree can grow up to seventy feet tall and to a diameter of two feet. Though it is closely related to the pitch pine, it is not as cold hardy, and is more suitable to warmer climates, and is only hardy to Zone 8. It is found in the southeastern USA along the coast, stretching from Florida and Alabama as far north as Cape May, New Jersey. These trees also flourish in the Southeast due to the large number of lightning storms there, which can cause fire, a phenomenon that actually encourages their growth and spread.

The bark of the pond pine forms rough plates, similar to the pitch pine, but the pond pine retains it brownish red color. The cones are rounded ovals, and when they open they retain a squat, round shape. The needles are a medium to dark green, very long and lush, with tapering ends making them almost soft to the touch. The sprouts, seedlings and seeds of the pond pine are known to be food for various wildlife including deer, rodents and birds, and the trees also provide habitat for a number of diverse wildlife species. The only real commercial use of pond pine is as a pulp wood. Like other pines, pond pine has also historically been used to make turpentine. It as also commonly used prior to the twentieth century for various healing purposes, including respiratory ailments, and was even used to make a treatment for tuberculosis.

The pond pine tree is known to hybridize occasionally with pitch pine and longleaf pine, and, more commonly throughout Delaware, the loblolly pine. Pond pines were introduced to England by botanists in the early 18th century, but are quite rare there now. Due to its love of water, pond pines may make up a large percentage of the overstory of swamps and marshes, or other poorly drained areas. Its most commonly seen habitat is coastal plains areas. The other trees it tends to share the overstory with may include red maple, swamp tupelo, sweetbay, liveoak and water oak. Pond pines tendency to sprout in response to surface damage (like cutting or breaking) makes it somewhat unique among other pine specimens.

Botanical Name Pinus serotina
Common Name Pond pine, marsh pine
Plant Type Evergreen
Mature Size 30 to 70'
Sun Exposure Full to partial sun
Soil Type Peaty, moist, acidic
Soil pH 4.8 to 6.8
Bloom Time N/A
Flower Color N/A
Hardiness Zones Hardy to Zone 8
Native Areas Southeast USA
Meadow with scattered pine trees
After forest fires, pond pines often retain dwarfed crowns that regenerate after fire damage.  Pine Pitch Pete / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

How to Grow Pond Pine

The pond pine is not generally valued as a landscaping tree, as its form is not considered attractive or unique. However it can be useful to prevent erosion and so on some properties it may prove useful to plant them, especially if wetlands are present, as pond pine can improve water quality. Pond pine is somewhat vulnerable to various pests or blights, including Atropellis tingens, which can cause cankers and causes foliage to die. Comandra blister rust (Cronartium comandrae), which can cause galls, or, more often, spindle-shaped swellings. Pond pine is also susceptible to red heart disease. 

Soil

Pond pines like sites with poor drainage, and in forests this means undrained peaty soil that holds moisture. This soil tend to be very acidic as well. Evergreen shrub bogs that do not drain well are also called "pocosins" and are also likely locations where one finds pond pines, which led to "Pocosin pine" becoming one of the folk names of the pond pine.

Light

Because they tend to grow as overstory trees near damp areas such as bogs and swamps, pond pines do best with a fair amount of sun. In some situations, oaks and maples may tend to grow up around and dominate them in some forests, but if partial shade is maintained they should survive. They're generally considered shade intolerant however and will not flourish in shady conditions.

Water

Pond pines thrive in wet spots and poorly drained locations. Given changing weather patterns due to global warming, it's possible that pond pines will now be able to grow in different locations, such as further west, in spots previously considered too dry for them. It is tolerant of occasional flooding.

Temperature and Humidity

The pond pine is cold hardy down to -3F, however it needs to have at least 190 frost-free days per year to flourish, so it does best in warmer zones. It tolerates high humidity in its swampy or boggy environments.

Propagation

Pond pine may be propagated in containers or as a bareroot planting. It requires cold stratification, ideally at least thirty days at temperatures between 33°F and 41°F. Germination will usually occur in about three weeks.