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Shore pine – the Natural Bonsai

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While running along the trails at Nehalem Bay State Park last weekend, I was again reminded why I love the iconic and craggy trees that inhabit the bluffs along the Oregon Coast. Crazy as it may sound, I was enjoying the wind and rain that lashed the ocean into a frenzy and whipped the trees about with a loud roar. As I ran along the path, I was reminded of an article I wrote in 2010 on shore pines.

Nehalem Bay State Park

 Nothing symbolizes the wild beauty of the Pacific Northwest coastline more than the shore pine, Pinus contorta var. contorta. It is the tree that you see along the headlands and beaches from Alaska to Northern California.

The shore pine is a beautiful, small, evergreen tree that can grow to 50 feet in the right conditions. The needles grow in pairs, roughly 2-7cm long and are a deep green. The needles are often curved and twisted. The bark is moderately thick and arranged into scaly, deeply furrowed plates. The seed cones open and release upon maturity, unlike its cousin the lodge pole pine, Pinus contorta var .latifolia that needs the heat of fire to release the seed.

Shore pines are very tolerant of poor soils in wet or dry conditions. They also tolerate salt spray quite well and are useful for stabilizing dune habitat. They are important for absorbing excessive rainfall and regulating water flows.

Shore pines are an important food source for squirrels and other rodents who eat the seeds. Shore pines were also important to native peoples who boiled the inner bark for food. Coastal Native Americans also used the pitch to treat open wounds and chewed the buds to relieve sore throats.
So, now that I’ve listed many of the wonderful attributes of the shore pine, I am going to mention one more. Shore pines achieve a naturally wild beautiful shape due to strong winds, poor site conditions and genetics without pruning and pampering. I call this a natural bonsai without the meticulous work of Japanese gardeners.  I enjoy the wonderfully twisted shapes of the tree trunks.

Okay, so maybe this little forest could use the help of a few Japanese gardeners but whoever said Mother Nature was tidy?

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