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A Winter Refuge

Although the woodlands look bleak in the winter, one tree provides a bit of greenery and shelter in pine barren woods in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. Pitch pine is an evergreen tree with stiff pine needles bundled in sets of threes and short round pine cones. Its thick corky-like bark protects it from wildfires.

These trees are a welcome sight for birds and wildlife. The pine provides shelter from winter storms and its cones have tiny seeds that are eaten by chickadees, crossbills. and squirrels Deer often bed down under pitch pine groves.

There are a couple of major threats to pitch pines. One is the suppression of fire. Pitch pine depends on a fire regime to burn back competing oak trees and open clearings that enable seedlings to grow. A new threat is the southern pine beetle that has spread its range northward, probably enabled by climate change. This bark beetle breeds in the inner bark of the tree where it introduces a fungus that contributes to the decimation of the pine tree.

Will there be pitch pine greenery in winter landscapes in the future? Only if people take measures through prescribed burns and finding a way to control invasive insects and plants will that happen.

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