Two Conifers Competing for Sun

Red Spruce and Eastern White Pine

Red more about these two conifers below. Scroll down to find educational activities you can try while on trail!



Eastern white pine has been an important tree for the people of
what is now the State of Maine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that Maine has come to be known as the
“Pine Tree State.” Recognizing its importance, in 1895 the Maine legislature designated the “Pine Cone and Tassel” as Maine’s official floral
emblem. In 1945 the legislature Resolved: “That the white pine tree be,
and hereby is, designated the official tree of the State of Maine.”

The availability and high quality of white pine lumber has played an
important part in the development and economy of Maine since 1605, when
Captain George Weymouth of the British Royal Navy collected samples here and brought them back to England for display. The shortage of ship masts in Europe led to England’s Broad Arrow Policy in 1691, whereby pines 24 inches or more in diameter within 3 miles of water were blazed with the mark of the broad arrow; such trees to be reserved for use in the Royal Navy. The term “King’s Arrow Pine” originated from this policy.

Most of the accessible virgin pine was cut by 1850. Lumber production reached its peak in 1909, but white pine is still a valuable species that contributes
greatly to the economy of the state.


Eastern White Pine cone and tassel

Read more about the Maine state flower here.


White pine occurs in all localities in the state in moist situations, on uplands and on sandy soil, but develops best on fertile, well-drained soils. On sandy soil it often becomes established in pure or nearly pure stands. It is one of the major species planted in the state. The tree grows rapidly both in height and diameter, making an average growth in height of 1 foot or more each year!
When growing in the open, the young tree is symmetrical and conical in outline except when deformed by white pine weevil. White pine weevil is an insect that kills the topmost shoot, and often causes the tree to have multiple stems and a round profile.

In the forest, a white pine tree has a narrow head; and the trunk is commonly free of live branches for a considerable portion of its length. Old forest trees have a broad and somewhat irregular head. The branches are horizontal and in regular whorls, usually of 5 each. Very old trees often become very irregular and picturesque. The trunk tapers gradually, and the tree often attains a height of 100 feet. Commonly it is from 70–80 feet tall, and has a diameter of 1–3 feet.

Weevil Damage to white pine

Young white pine showing wilting symptoms caused by pine weevil. Credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Tree Features

The bark of young trees is smooth and thin, green with a reddish-brown tinge overall, or brown in spots. On old trees, it is from 1–2 inches thick, very dark, and divided into broad, flat ridges by shallow fissures.

Leaves are in clusters of 5, flexible, 3–5 inches long, bluish-green but
whitish on one side. The papery sheath at the base of the new needle clusters falls in late August.

The cones are 4–8 inches long, cylindrical and borne on a long stalk.
They take 2 years to mature, and open to discharge the seed shortly after ripening in late August through September of the second season.

The wood is light in color and durable, except when in prolonged contact with moisture. It is soft, not heavy and is easily worked. The wood is used extensively for interior trim, doors, windows,
cabinetmaking, sash and door manufacture, pattern making, furniture,
small building construction, interior and exterior finish, and boat planking. Pine furniture is always popular in North America. Lumber from Maine is sold from Newfoundland to Washington 
state and south into Mexico. Lower grade boards have clear sections cut to size for sale. These clear short pieces may also be finger-jointed to create longer lengths of clear wood.Any part of a pine not making log grade is used for pulp. Ceiling tiles and paper are made from this pulp.

Needles and cones

Image by Lilly Schelling from NY State Parks & Historic Sites

Red Spruce Picea rubens


Red spruce is an abundant tree species commonly found in Maine with significant ecological and economical importance’s for the state. Red and white spruce make up much of the eastern and central coastal Maine forests. In the 1800s, these original spruce populations were cleared for home building and commercial and agricultural purposes.

Not only valuable for its lumber, spruce trees have a tasty sap that oozes from wounds on the tree bark. This slow oozing sap hardens in a resin that can be chewed. This was was traditionally harvested from red and black spruce trees, giving rise to the first commercially manufactured chewing gum in 1850. John B. Curtis opened two factories in Portland and between 1850 and 1910, Maine was the largest chewing gum producer in the Northeast. The introduction of new gums on the market and a growing demand for spruce pulp resulted in the disappearance of spruce gum factories. Today, along with Balsam fir, red spruce is most often used for construction lumber, and paper making. The wood is especially good for crafting musical instruments.

Red Spruce is also important ecologically providing food and cover for many birds and mammals in Northern forests. The buds and foliage feed grouse, and the cones and seeds are food for red squirrels and white-winged crossbills. Good seed production is seen in trees 30 years old.

Red Spruce on Vinalhaven Island, Maine

Credit: C.J. Earle, 2003.07.18.


Small concentrations of red spruce can be found as far south as North Carolina, but they grow best in the cool, moist, northern forests of New England , Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Use this link to see a virtual map of red spruce distribution. They are a shade tolerant tree that grows in rocky, well-drained soils. Red spruce can grow at varying elevations from sea level to about 4,500 feet ( Red spruce trees are sensitive to acid rain and nitrogen deposition which may be tied to regional declines in their population.

Tree Features

The bark of mature trees is thick and covered with thin irregular shaped scales. Gray-brownish scales appear layered over reddish-brown bark.

The leaves are distinguishable for their stiff, prickly to the touch needles. These needles are four sided, shiny dark yellow-green color, and are about 1/2 inch long.

The cones are 11/2–2 inches long with rigid, round scales. These light reddish-brown cones mature from mid-September to early October.

The wood is light in color, soft, and close-grained. The wood of the Red Spruce is one of Maine’s most valuable trees for the production of lumber (Forestry of Maine). Click here to see a chart of important distinctions between all of the Spruce trees you can find in Maine.


An Image from the New England Forestry Foundation. Click here to read their article on Red Spruce.

Does tree height always mean an older tree?

Why might it be the case that the much smaller and shorter Red spruce older than the towering White pine? This difference in heights is due, like many things in nature, to the needs of each species.  While White pine is generally intolerant of shade and bolts to reach the sky immediately, Red spruce is much more tolerant of shade and can persist in heavy shade for decades before additional light becomes available.  Then, sometimes after more than 100 years, the tree will respond to additional light and regain its height growth rapidly as long as the light lasts.  As the tree grows into the light and overtakes any competitors, it will accelerate in height  and diameter growth.

“Light management”, a technique foresters use, encourages the regeneration of a mix of species that are either tolerant or intolerant of shade. Depending on the mixture, both types will be encouraged. 


The Handy Nature Journal!

Click here to download a printable copy of the Handy Nature Journal. This journal includes information about this trail sign and has guided activities you can do while visiting the trail, or anywhere else outdoors! This pocket journal focuses on learning about coniferous trees and how you can measure them. Click on the image for a downloadable copy.

To fold your Handy Journal – follow the instructions using the link below!


Trail Activities

  Measuring trees

  How tall do you think the red spruce and white pine tree are?

Take a look up at the trees, can you see the top? Walk around the tree to see how large it is.

Can you wrap your arms around the tree, as if you were going to give it a hug?

Many of the methods we discuss are best when done with a friend and using a ruler.

Q: How can we measure trees with the tools we have on us?

Practice measuring using our bodies:

As practice, find a branch, leaf, rock, etc. and using a body part; a foot, arm, finger, hand, or leg, measure the object.

ex: the rock I measured is the length of my hand. This branch is the length of my forearm.

Measuring tree height: Lets try to estimate the height of a tree with a ruler.  If you do not have a ruler, you can also use a stick!

Using a ruler … Hold the ruler out in front of you and back away from the tree until you line up the 0inch mark on the ruler to the base of the tree, and the 10 inch mark on the ruler to the top of the tree. Adjust your position until it’s right. Next, find the spot on the tree that lines up with the 1 inch line on the ruler. Have your friend stand by the tree to mark this line on the tree. Then, measure from this spot to the ground in feet. To get the height of the tree, multiply your number in feet by 10!



How Old is my Tree?

Have you ever tilted your head far back to look up towards the tree tops and thought, wow.. these trees must be really old! But how old exactly? One way foresters can determine the age of a tree is by counting the annual rings of wood growth. Annual growth rings can be counted in two ways. Foresters can take a core sample from the tree trunk using an increment borer. This can be done on live trees, but it does leave some bark damage. Another way is to count the growth rings on a stump from a dead, fallen, or cut-down tree. 

If we want to determine the age of a living tree, we can do that by using a method developed by the International Society of Arboriculture. All we need is some simple measurements from our tree, and a calculator to make some calculations.

First: Wrap a tape measure around the trunk of the tree about 4.5 feet above the ground to measure the tree circumference

Second: Next we need to calculate the diameter. we can do this by diving our circumference by 3.14 (pi)   Diameter = circumference/3.14

Third: Finding tree age using growth factor.

Growth Factors: 

– EWP:                                                                                                                                   –

Tree age = diameter x tree species growth factor.

How old is your tree?


For more information on these activities; click into these links!      : For more on measuring circumference and tree height : For more on tree age