Pine trees are one of the most common trees in Florida. You can find them growing in the state’s many forests and landscapes. Some pines make excellent screens, windbreaks, and others are suitable shade trees.
Seven pine species are native to Florida. The genus, Pinus, has a massive 115 species – but to most people, pine trees all seem the same. So, how can you tell the difference? Pay attention to the needle count!
As a rule, Florida pines starting with “S” have needles in twos, and those starting with “L” have needles in threes. Finally, slash pine, which begins with “SL,” has needles in twos and threes. Besides that, in this article, we will share the distinguishing features of each type of pine.
If you are interested in growing native Florida pines, this article provides some information about them. But if you want a beautiful ornamental pine, consider the Japanese black pine.
8 Pine Trees to Grow or Admire in Florida
1. Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) – Native Tree
Years ago, slash pine was the most common tree in Florida’s pine plantations. Over the years, millions of acres of slash pine ended up as timber. In addition, slash pine was one of the primary sources of resin to produce turpentine and rosin for the naval industry.
Slash pine needles come in bundles of twos or threes. These needles can be long – measuring anywhere from 4 to 10 inches, most from 8 to 10 inches long. The cones are 2.75 to 6 inches long with a glossy brown or caramel color.
You can plant slash pine anywhere in Florida, regardless of the soil conditions. It occurs naturally in the wet flatlands, swampy areas, and shallow pond edges. You will often find slash pine growing alongside loblolly pine in the wild.
You can tell the difference by looking at the needles. Loblolly pines always grow with two or three needles per fascicle.
Slash pine is fast-growing and self-pruning, making it a desirable choice for many growers. The ‘elliott’´cultivar is better for North Florida and ‘densa’ or ‘Dade County Pine’ is better for south Florida and the keys.
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 75 – 100 feet tall with a spread of 30 – 50 feet
2. Sand Pine (Pinus clausa) – Native Tree
As the name suggests, this native pine is famous for growing in sandy and nutrient-poor soils. In Florida, you will find it growing on the Atlantic coastal dunes as far south as Dade County and on the Gulf coast as far south as Lee County.
But you will also find it growing in the deep, dry, infertile acid sands in the state interior, for example, in the Big Scrub area of the Ocala National Forest.
Sand pine is a small to medium-sized tree with a conical crown. The trunk and branches are often twisted, making the tree picturesque. Young trees have smooth trunks with thin bark, varying in color from brown to gray to tan. Older trees are less smooth than younger ones but still relatively smooth compared to other pines.
Sand pine has small, short needles, about 2 to 3 inches long, growing in bundles of two. The cones are the same length as the needles and may take many years to open.
You should consider growing this pine tree if your soil is poor or if you need to add some vegetation to a sandy spot.
Other Common Names: Florida spruce pine, Alabama pine, Scrub pine
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 60 feet tall and 20 – 40 feet wide
3. Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) – Native Tree
According to the University of Florida, longleaf pine once covered up to 60 million acres in the southeastern United States before the arrival of European settlers.
Another interesting fact, the tree evolved to thrive and reproduce through frequent low-intensity fires started by lightening. Today, urban development and fire suppression reduce their numbers in Florida’s forests.
As its name shows, longleaf pine has the longest needles of all Florida’s pine trees. It can be up to 14 inches long! Not only are its leaves long, but this tree can also grow to a massive 125 feet tall. The bark is thick, reddish-brown, and scaly.
Longleaf pine makes a remarkable specimen tree in the landscape, especially in large and open areas. In addition, it provides large decorative pinecones and generously sized pine nuts.
Longleaf pines spend up to twenty years in a juvenile phase, growing low to the ground. During this phase, it looks just like a clump of grass. So, for most home landscapers, it is better to source trees that are a bit more mature than this.
You can consider growing longleaf pine if you want to add long-term vegetation to a site prone to forest fires.
USDA Growing Zones: 7b – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 feet tall with a spread of 30 – 40 feet
4. Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) – Native Tree
Loblolly pine is more common in areas from central Florida northward. This tree is not an option for the more tropical regions of Florida. You will find it in most areas except wet ground or in sand pine scrub areas. It has a clear preference for good loamy soil.
Loblolly pine needles are in the middle compared to other pines. They are about 3 to 9 inches long but generally between 5 to 6 inches in length. As per the needles rule outlined in the introduction, they bear 3 needles per fascicle in most cases. The needles are stiff and sometimes have a slight twist.
The seed cones measure 2.5 to 4 inches long and stay on the tree until the end of their third year of growth.
The bark is one good way to identify loblolly pine. On young trees, the bark is scaly and nearly black. Older trees with deep furrows divide the bark into dark brown scaly blocks.
It is an excellent choice for the landscaper because it is fast-growing. The cultivar’ Nana’ is perfect if you want to add a pine screen to your landscape. It reaches 8 to 16 feet tall and does not self-prune, meaning you can prune the tree to your desired shape.
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 90 feet tall with a spread of 25 – 35 feet
5. Pond Pine (Pinus serotina) – Native Tree
Pond pine is not a typical choice for landscapers; it does not have a unique or attractive form. In most cases, you will find them growing in Florida’s forests.
Pond pine does better in relatively more sub-tropical central and north Florida. It grows in poorly drained flatlands and pond edges, hence its common name.
Pond pine has an interesting scientific name, serotina; it comes from the Latin word for “later.” This name refers to the seed cones, which can remain on the tree for eight years after maturity in the absence of fire.
During this time, it remains tightly closed and holds its seeds. The heat from the fire quickly opens the seed cones. Even with such intense heat, the seeds remain viable.
Regarding its features, pond pine sometimes has a twisted or bend trunk. The bark forms rough brownish-red plates. The needles are long and lush with a dark green tone, soft to touch.
You can plant pond pine later in the year, around fall. But it is a slower grower; it can take as much as 18 years to reach maturity. It is a great pine tree to plant near swamps, marches, and ponds. It loves areas with poor drainage and peaty soil that retains moisture.
Other Common Names: Marsh pine, Bay pine
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 feet tall
6. Spruce Pine (Pinus glabra) – Native Tree
Spruce pine gets its name from its distinctive silvery-gray bark that resembles spruce trees. This feature is even more prevalent among older trees. You can find spruce pine growing mainly in north Florida and the panhandle. It grows scattered among loblolly pine and other hardwoods in hammocks or along streams.
Spruce pine features glossy dark green needles. The relatively short needles are about 3.5 to 4 inches long with a spiral twist. The seed cones are small, only 1.5 to 3 inches, and appear in singles. They release their seeds upon maturity but can linger on the tree for several years.
A unique characteristic of spruce pine is its shade tolerance. Compared to other pines, it prefers a bit of shade as full sun can stunt their growth. Also, spruce pine prefers moist, sandy loam soil.
USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 25 – 40 feet
7. Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata) – Native Tree
In nature, shortleaf pine grows in the same range and habitat as spruce pine. That is in north Florida, west of the Suwannee River. This makes identifying the difference between the two difficult.
Spruce pine has a silvery gray bark as it matures, but shortleaf pine remains reddish brown. The bark on older shortleaf pine looks like jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Also, shortleaf pine grows in clusters and is not solitary like spruce pine. These seed cones are the smallest native Florida pines, only 1.5 to 2.5 inches long.
Shortleaf pine once made up a vast area from eastern Texas to New Jersey and Florida. Pests, timber management practices, diseases, and land use caused a 50% loss in acreage over the last 30 years. For this reason, various governmental forestry divisions, such as the U.S. Forest Service, are working hard to promote its restoration efforts.
Other Common Names: Old-field pine, Rosemary pine, Short-leaf pine, Yellow pine
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 80 – 100 feet tall with a width of 20 – 40 feet
8. Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) – Non-Native Tree
Japanese black pine is a gorgeous ornamental pine, but it is not for every Florida landscaper. It is an excellent addition to the ornamental landscape for those in the panhandle. Especially along the Gulf coast, as this pine has excellent salt tolerance.
This pine grows in a shrub-like form and has a stocky habit. These characteristics make it an excellent pine for planters, entrances, focal points, or East Asian-themed gardens.
Japanese black pine has bright green needles, about 3 to 4.5 inches long. Compared to the native Florida pine, its needles are stout and sharp.
Suitable dwarf varieties include the variegated ‘Oculus Draconis,’ with needles featuring a yellow band close to their base.
At maturity, it is about 6 to 8 feet in height. ‘Thunderbird’ is another excellent dwarf cultivar with densely needled branches, making dark storm clouds appear. It takes about 10 years for this cultivar to reach its mature height of 5 to 10 feet tall.
Japanese black pine prefers full sun exposure – at least six hours of direct sunlight. In addition, for best results, provide it with sandy loam soil.
Other Common Names: Black pine, Japanese pine
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 3 – 80 feet tall and 4 – 25 feet wide (Depending on cultivar)
How to Find Pine Trees in Florida
Pine trees have tremendous commercial value. They are cultivated and used for paper, industrial chemicals, and lumber. In addition, they have wildlife benefits, serving as food and shelter for many species of mammals, birds, and insects.
Good news for those in the north and north-central Florida planting zones – USDA Zone 8a to 9a – all the pine trees on this list will do well there.
Now that you have an idea of the features of the various Florida native pines, you must be wondering where to get them.
A fantastic source for buying pine tree seedlings is the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They sell large quantities of improved varieties and cultivars of slash pine, loblolly pine, and sand pine to landowners. But as of the publishing date, the minimum order quantity is a whopping 250 trees!
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Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.