Pining for fall colors

by | Sep 25, 2013

The oldest needles of pine trees begin to brown and drop this time of the year.

We welcomed the first day of fall earlier this week.  With the cooler season, soon we’ll be seeing the turning of leaves and their bright displays of reds, oranges, and yellows. But, whether you’ve noticed it or not, some fall colors are already upon us. I’m not referring to the occasional early-turning hardwood trees, I’m referring to pine trees.

Despite being referred to as “evergreens,” pine trees do not keep their needles forever. Each year, the oldest needles of pine trees turn brown and are shed. The older needles are those closest to the main trunk of the tree. The newer, fresher needles are at branch tips and stay green, giving the appearance that the tree does not experience needle loss. This time of year, the ground beneath pine trees may be blanketed with shed needles.

In fact, this business of shedding needles is a business for some. Some pine needles – especially longleaf pine needles, which can reach 18 inches in length –  are raked and sold as pine straw by garden centers for use as a decorative ground cover or mulch.  To learn more about producing longleaf pine straw in North Carolina, visit the N.C. Forest Service’s Woodland Owner Notes on the topic.

Longleaf pine needles are also woven into baskets, a cultural relic of the Southeast. In this region, Native Americans once collected needles, then bundled and coiled them into a spiral. These spirals were sewn together to produce beautiful baskets which were used as collecting baskets, storage baskets, and even cooking vessels. Today, the craft of pine needle basketry lives on.

So, look around you and soak in the pine fall colors before the bright colors of hardwood trees set in and steal the show!