5. Austrian Pine

Pinus nigra Arnold: Austrian Pine

Cultural Significance

Austrian pine was most likely brought to the United States in the mid 19th century with a wave of central European immigration.  As these immigrants moved from the coast toward the Great Plains, they brought the familiar tree with them.  Austrian pine helped homesteaders tame the plains states by protecting farms from sweeping wind and snow drifts.  By 1935, in part a response to the continuing Dust Bowl, The U.S. Forests Service began the largest tree planting effort ever conducted.  This planting would be an eight-year campaign in which 222 million trees were planted in order to create nearly 19,000 miles of shelterbelts across the plains.  The major goals of this undertaking were to combat the soil erosion created by the environmental conditions of the 1930’s and to stem unemployment.  The labor to create such a massive undertaking was provided by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), designed to give the unemployed new work.  Austrian pine was planted along side other pine species such as Ponderosa pine and Red pine. 

Since then, Austrian pine has been used to help rejuvenate soils depleted by strip mining, but is currently used as an ornamental.  Austrian pine is becoming a popular species for Christmas Trees because of its crown and symmetry.  Several Rockefeller Center Christmas Trees have been Austrian pines, generally from upstate New York.

Native Ecosystems

Pinus nigra Arnold, also known as European Black Pine or Austrian Pine, is a medium-sized, Pine, found throughout Europe and has since been introduced to the United States.  Pinus nigra is generally divided into two varieties: eastern and western.  Austrian pine is counted among the eastern varieties, which are known as being the more hardy variety.  Together, the eastern and western varieties of Pinus nigra are found from Europe’s Atlantic coast all the way east into Russia.  They extend as far south as the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa.  Austrian pine prefers colder climates and does well on a variety of soil types; from basic to slightly acidic.  Austrian pine requires full sunlight (shade intolerant) and deep soils to spread its root system.

The Austrian pine is considered moderately invasive in the northeastern United States.  It tends to escape intended plantings and becomes naturalized in forests.  The Austrian pine may be hybridize with domestic pine species or other introduced pines to create natural variations specific to North America.  Austrian pine may shade areas, inhibiting the growth of other species, though this is minor issue.  The Austrian pine does support several types of needle blight, infections and fungi.

Beneficial Uses

The bark of the mature Austrian pine is dark grey or black, with a plated or scaly appearance. A white resin is visible on the trunk. The wood of Austrian pine is comparable to other pine species, such as ponderosa pine and red pine.   While the wood is similar, Austrian pine is softer and rougher in texture than other pines.  These qualities make it less desirable for woodworking. 

Austrian pine may be processed for its resin, which yields useful byproducts for humans.  Turpentine is extracted from the tree, which has been used to treat everything from intestinal worms to tuberculosis.  It can be applied topically to aid in the healing of burns and scars.  Other products include a vanilla extract, rosin for violin bows and industrial solvents.

Biological Characteristics

Like all members of the Family Pinaceae, the Austrian pine has acicular-shaped leaves, which are commonly known as needles.  It is considered fast growing, and ranges in height from 40 to 165 feet.  It has a typical spread of 25-35 feet.  It grows in a pyramidal shape, with a symmetrical crown.  It has large, drooping branches with distinct upturned tips.  It is most commonly used as an ornamental, but has lumber, resin and cultural uses.  The Austrian pine can live up to 600 years, giving it particular interest to climatologists, whom derive information from the tree’s rings.

Austrian pine is a gymnosperm (Greek for “naked seed”).  Gymnosperms typically have needles, cones and stay green all year long.  Austrian pine has deep-green needles that are 1.5-2.0 mm thick and have a length of 6-14cm.  The needles are hypodermic (hollow) and can live on the tree for four to seven years.  The Austrian pine does not reach sexual maturity until it is at least fifteen seasons old and may remain in adolescence until it is in its fortieth season.  Austrian pine is monoecious and produces both male and female cones on the same tree.  It may self-pollinate or cross-pollinate with other trees, as its pollen is carried by the wind.  The seeds are produced in female woody cones, which are highly visible on the branches.