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What Is a Sugar Pine?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2014
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Sugar pine is a member of the pinaceae family of trees that is found in the northwestern section of Mexico, as well as parts of California and Oregon in the United States. The sugar pine tree is considered to be the largest of all species of pine tress, and is distinguished by pine cones that are noticeably longer than the cones produced by other types of pines. Sugar pines are considered to be part of the white pine class.

Along with the distinctive size of the sugar pine cones, this type of pine tree is noted for the unusually sweet resin or sap that is produced. In some cases, the taste of the sap or resin has been compared to the sap from maple trees that is used to produce maple sugar. However, there has never been a mass produced syrup or sugar manufactured from sugar pine trees.

The dimensions of the sugar pine are as impressive as the size of the pine cones produced by the trees. It is possible for a single tree to reach a height of anywhere from 130 to 200 feet (40-60 meters). The trunk of the tree can also be impressive, reaching a diameter of 5 to 8 feet (1.5-2.5 meters) in most cases. There are records that indicate sugar pines have reached a diameter of as much as 11 feet (3.5 meters).

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While considered one of the most impressive of all pines, the sugar pine was once in danger of becoming extinct. A fungus known as the White Pine Blister Rust was inadvertently transplanted to the Pacific Coast of North America during the early years of the 20th century. The fungus has a devastating effect on sugar pines, killing off whole sections of forest.

Over time, efforts to create a sugar pine that is resistant to the fungus has met with some success. Both privately funded efforts and those of the United States’ Forest Service have made attempts to reintroduce the sugar pine into areas where the tree previously flourished. Projects of this type are ongoing, but show signs of being successful over the course of the next few decades.

Prior to the introduction of the rust fungus, sugar pine was considered a strong wood that could be used for construction purposes as well as the creation of household furnishings. Sugar pine wood could be harvested and sectioned for use in making chair and sofa framing, dining tables, and even porch swings. Trunks were also harvested and milled into pine sugar lumber that was suitable for use as flooring as well as exterior siding on a number of 19th and early 20th century homes. Because of the endangered status of the tree today, little if any harvesting of sugar pines for use in woodworking or building takes place.

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