Table Mountain Pine and Two Close Relatives

— Written By and last updated by Jami Hooper
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Three North Carolina foothills and mountain pine species that can be a little confusing to sort out – at first – are table mountain pine (Pinus pungens), pitch pine (P. rigida) and Virginia pine (P. virginiana). Multiple characteristics can be used to separate these species one from another, but this brief note will focus just on the individual bundles of needles, known as fascicles. Both table mountain pine and Virginia pine have needles in fascicles of 2, whereas pitch pine has fascicles of 3. The needles come together at the base within a fascicle sheath. Fascicle sheaths can be somewhat characteristic in both appearance and length, as seen in the image below. We’ll have more commentary on table mountain pine, pitch pine and Virginia pine in an upcoming post.

individual bundles of needles, known as fascicles

In one recent sample, table mountain pine fascicle sheaths (top) averaged 4-5 mm in length, as
compared with Virginia pine (middle) at around 3-4 mm. PItch pine (bottom) had much longer
fascicles, generally within 6-9 mm; you can also just make out a third needle underneath the
uppermost two. The fascicle sheath of table mountain pine is unique in that it has the appearance
of being wound with very fine thread.