Ed Golson Outdoor Education

jack pine

Scientific Name: Pinus banksiana

Description: Jack pines are medium sized pine trees, averaging 60 feet tall. Jack pines in Michigan are often crooked and shorter due to diseases and insects. Further north into parts of the Upper Peninsula and Ontario the trees can grow straighter and much taller. The bark of this tree is dark and scaly when younger and eventually develops ridges when it gets older. Most pine trees have branches that die and break off when they get shaded out.  The branches of the jack pine, however, usually don't break off when they die. The cones of the jack pine often stay on the tree for many years, which can give the tree a coarse appearance. The "leaves" of the jack pine tree are twisted needles that grow in bundles of 2. Each needle is about an inch long and is yellowish-green in color.  

Jack pines are specially adapted to grow in very hot, dry, and sandy areas. They do very well in sand dunes or on sandy glacial plains. They are well adapted to forest fires, which are common throughout much of their habitat . Most of their cones are sealed with a sticky resin and won't release the seeds inside until the resin melts from extreme heat, such as a forest fire. This is an advantage because forest fires generally create openings in the forest canopy, allowing new seedlings to get more sunlight than they normally would.  

Jack pines in Michigan and elsewhere have suffered in recent decades due to suppression of forest fires. For many years people believed that forest fires were always a bad thing and so they did whatever they could to keep them from spreading. By doing this, however, they prevented jack pines from growing new sprouts and allowed other trees to take over their habitat. Now scientists and foresters are using controlled burns to help species like the jack pine and the Kirtland's warbler that nest in them.

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