Loblolly Pine or Shortleaf Pine?

— Written By and last updated by

Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) may sometimes be confused with shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), but a comparison of foliage and cones provides clarification, especially when the scope is limited to native NC pines from the Piedmont through the Coastal Plain. Slash pine (Pinus elliotii) has a more southerly native range, and most folks have no real trouble separating longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) from other eastern native pines. So for the purposes of this short article, we’ll limit the discussion to loblolly vs. shortleaf.

If cones are present under the tree in question, remember that the cones of shortleaf pine are significantly smaller than those of loblolly pine. Shortleaf pine cones average 1.5 to 2.5 inches long, with an ovoid (somewhat egg-shaped) to conical shape. In contrast, loblolly cones are 3.0 to 6.0 inches long. Shortleaf needles range from 1.75 to 4.5 inches in length, as compared with 6.0 to 10.0 inches for loblolly pine. A third important characteristic is the arrangement of needles in bundles (fascicles). Shortleaf pine needles are primarily in bundles of two, although you’ll find plenty in bundles of three; loblolly needles are primarily in bundles of three, occasionally in two.

Shortleaf pine is not rare, by any means, in the Craven County area; but loblolly does seem to predominate. On the other hand, shortleaf pine has a wider distribution across the state.

Image of pine cones Image of pine needles