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Twisted-Branch Pine Pinus contorta

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
PI-nus kon-TOR-ta
Description

Shore pine is a medium to large, short-needled evergreen tree or shrub that has a broad habit with a rounded crown. It may grow from 40 to 50 feet tall. Depending on the variety or cultivar, some may grow as shrubs and measure 3.5 to 10 feet tall. The distinctive feature of this evergreen is its needles which are short and grow in groups of two alternately along the stem. The woody cones are egg-shaped and tend to point back toward the stem. The stems are cinnamon or orangish-brown colored. The trunk of the tree is twisted or contorted in shape. This tree or shrub is a member of the Pinaceae or pine family. 

The shore pine tree is a native of Alaska and the Yukon to Washington, Oregon, California coasts, and as far east as the Rocky Mountains. It is the only pine in the Pacific Northwest that has short needles in bundles of two. Its native habitats include wetlands, estuaries, forests, coastal bluffs, and rocky areas. 

The genus name, Pinus, originates from the Latin word for "pines." The species name, contorta, means "twisted." This refers to the contorted, twisted, or gnarled shape that results from coastal winds. The common name, shore pine, is derived from the tree's native habitat which includes rocky shores. The common name, lodgepole pine, refers to its use by Native Americans for building their teepees.

The shore pine prefers full sun and is tolerant of a wide variety of soil conditions. It can grow in peat bogs, sandy areas, or gravelly soils. It is wind, poor soil, and salt spray tolerant. It may be propagated by seeds.

The bark may be reddish-brown to gray and scaly or furrowed. Pitch may be present on the trunk of the tree. Pollen cones are present from April to June. The seedy woody cones mature in 16 to 20 months after pollination. Some cones open immediately at maturity to release their seeds while others will not open for several years. Birds and small mammals use the seeds as a food source.  

The shore pine would be a great addition to a seaside landscape or Japanese Garden. It may also be used as a bonsai plant.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark: Year-round         Bloom:  Spring          Foliage: Year-round      Fruit:  Variable

Quick ID Hints:

  • conifer, evergreen, twisted, contorted, or gnarled trunk with a bushy habit
  • grayish-brown to dark brown thin, scaly bark
  • orangish-brown to brown twigs with resinous reddish-brown buds
  • short, yellow-greenish to green needles that appear in bundles of two
  • woody light brown to brown cones that are egg-shaped and tend to point back to the stem

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The shore pine has no serious insect or disease problems. Aphids, sawflies, and moths may be seen. 

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

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See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Pinus contorta var.contorta
    rounded crown, height no more than 50 feet, dark green needles
  • Pinus contorta var. latifolia
    columnar, up to 115 feet tall, yellow-greenish needles
  • 'Spaan's Dwarf'
    compact, dwarf form
Pinus contorta var.contorta, Pinus contorta var. latifolia, 'Spaan's Dwarf'
Tags:
#cultivars#interesting bark#conifer#salt tolerant#interesting leaves#small mammals#needled evergreen#rounded#showy cones#interesting buds#nesting sites#evergreen tree#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#erect#full sun#broad#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Pinus contorta var.contorta
    rounded crown, height no more than 50 feet, dark green needles
  • Pinus contorta var. latifolia
    columnar, up to 115 feet tall, yellow-greenish needles
  • 'Spaan's Dwarf'
    compact, dwarf form
Pinus contorta var.contorta, Pinus contorta var. latifolia, 'Spaan's Dwarf'
Tags:
#cultivars#interesting bark#conifer#salt tolerant#interesting leaves#small mammals#needled evergreen#rounded#showy cones#interesting buds#nesting sites#evergreen tree#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#erect#full sun#broad#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Pinus
    Species:
    contorta
    Family:
    Pinaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used materials from the tree to make ropes. splints, and teepees. The pitch was used to waterproof canoes or fasten arrowheads. The pitch and bark were also used for medicinal purposes such as treatment for wounds or to make poultices or tea. The tree is now used occasionally as a Christmas tree.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Subarctic North America to Mexico
    Distribution:
    Native: Canada--Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territory, Saskatchewan, and Yukon; Mexico Northwest; United States--AK, CA, ID, MT, NV, OR, SD, UT, WA, and WY. Introduced: Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, New South Wales, Norway, Romania, and Sweden
    Wildlife Value:
    The Shore Pine seeds provide a food source for many birds and small mammals. Some birds also eat insects from cones or branches. It serves as a host for insect larvae such as Pine White Butterfly. Songbirds enjoy nesting in the tree.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Wildlife Nesting
    Dimensions:
    Height: 20 ft. 0 in. - 50 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 35 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Needled Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Erect
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4b, 4a, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a woody light brown-brownish seed cone that is 1-2 inches long. The cone is oval or egg-shaped and tends to point backwards on the branch. The cones contain seeds that will be released at maturity. Some cones remain unopened for years. It can take 16-20 months after pollination for the seed cones to mature. The seeds are obovoid, black, and ae 0.2 inches long.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are pollen cones. The male flowers are yellow and cylinder in shape. They appear clustered at the tips of the branches. The female flowers are reddish-purple and appear at the branch tips at the upper crown of the tree.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Needled Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Type:
    Needles
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Acicular
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The evergreen needles are yellowish-green to green and are 1.5 to 3 inches long. There are two needles per bundle and appear alternately along the stem. They appear flat and often twisted. They have a sheathe that measures about 0.25 inches long.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Scaly
    Bark Description:
    The bark is thin and scaly, and the color ranges from reddish-brown, grayish-brown, or dark brown.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Young stems are orangish-brown and will turn a darker color as they age. The tree has narrow ovoid buds that are resinous and reddish-brown.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Container
    Landscape Theme:
    Asian Garden
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Poor Soil
    Salt
    Wind