A White Pine Conundrum

Published at 21:59 on 7 February 2018

At the age of four I moved from California to Illinois, a land of prairies and broadleaf trees. The only local conifer was the Eastern Red Cedar, and there weren’t many of those.

Several hours away was White Pine State Park which has the only forest of Eastern White Pine trees in Illinois. There were white pines elsewhere in the state, such as at Starved Rock, but just occasional trees mixed in with the broadleaf ones, not a solid forest.

There were no wild pines in the western suburbs of Chicago, where I lived, something that I regretted. I have always been interested in plants, and the tree books talked about a closely-related pine found in the West, which I was curious to see some day.

When I moved to Seattle and was biking through my neighborhood several months later, there it was. A tree that was obviously a white pine, yet obviously not the Eastern White Pine I knew from Illinois. And another, and another, generally in the more unkempt areas, like greenbelts and the margins of back yards. A quick look at a range map confirmed that yes, the Puget lowlands from about Seattle north were in the range of the Western White Pine.

It’s the only place in the world where that species comes to meet the Pacific; it’s mostly an inland and mountain species. It both provides a sense of home and memories of my childhood in a place where its close relative was one of the only native conifers.

Last week I noticed one coming up in one of my hedges in the front yard, underneath a rose bush. It’s not a complete surprise, as its likely parent tree looms large just a fraction of a block to the south. No doubt a winter windstorm carried a winged seed from it to under my rose bush a few seasons ago. But it’s not exactly where I’d want a large tree to grow, which is the conundrum.

Where do I put it? Mine is a small lot, so most people wouldn’t plant something so large there in the first place. The place where it has the most room to grow already has a grand fir volunteering, another species I love, because of the distinctive citrus-like fragrance of its needles, and no way is there room for both there.

I suppose I could dig up and give away one of the two trees, but I’m attached to both. Right now I’m leaning toward digging up and gifting (or just guerrilla transplanting) the grand fir and moving the pine to that area, but my thoughts keep changing. Thankfully, there’s no great hurry; I have about a year to make a decision.

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