Purpose of Pine Needles

Have you ever wondered how many pine tree species are in the world? Ever wonder why a pine tree has needles not leaves? What about the purpose they serve?

In the world there are over 100 pine tree species most notable in the United States are Slash, Loblolly and Longleaf pine. The pine needles from each species vary in shape and size while their purpose remains the same. Pine trees are coniferous evergreen which means they stay green year round and do not lose their needles.

General Characteristics:

Pine needles are long and slender. The length and color depends on three key elements: the pine species, which season we are in and the amount of water available to the tree. Generally pine needles range from short (5” or less) to very long (up to 15”) and on any pine tree the length of needles may vary by several inches.

Pine needle colors may be brown, a whitish-green or a deep dark green.

Main Purpose:

Pine needles have thicker outer coating known as “skin” when compared to leaves as well a thick layer of wax for added protection. With less surface area, thicker skin and a waxy coating pine needles do not let as much water evaporate as leaves. In dry climates and cold winter months pine trees survive because of its water conservation.

Other Purposes:

After pine needles fall to the ground they serve even more purposes than just helping the tree survive. Freshly fallen pine needles will naturally interlock and creates a natural mat (or barrier) that prohibits weed growth, prevents soil erosion, disperses nutrients back into the soil and more.

Neat Facts about Pine Needles:

  • Each pine tree grows thousands of needles in its life cycle.
  • Pine needles can stay on a tree for up to 5 years. Most fall off when they reach maturity.
  • Are excellent compost material.
  • Pine needles are used for medicinal purposes.
  • Needles are used to make pine needle tea and even baskets.
  • Sold as pine straw, natural mulch.
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