Pennsylvania Champion Trees at the Barnes: Lacebark Pine

Pennsylvania Champion Trees at the Barnes: Lacebark Pine

Lacebark Pine

Pinus bungeana is native to northeastern and central China. Its dark needles and exfoliating bark give it a distinctive appearance. The smooth bark peels with age, somewhat like a sycamore, to reveal a beautiful underlying patchwork of white, olive, red-brown, gray, and silver, which turn milky white at maturity. It usually takes at least 10 years before the bark begins to exfoliate, and longer before the signature white bark fully develops. This slow-growing pine can often be seen on the grounds of Buddhist temples.

Despite its unusual form, the foliage of the lacebark pine reveals it to be typical of the Pinus genus. Its needles (the hallmark of pines) grow in closely arranged bunches of three and are particularly spiky to touch. The cones are equally unfriendly to handle; as with many pinecones, these are egg-shaped (ovoid) and ripen to a woody dark brown color. Compared to other conifer cones it has relatively few scales, but each one is tipped with a short spine. On opening, the seeds are released and dispersed.

Lacebark Pine

It was first seen by Dr. Alexander Bunge (the species is named after him) near Beijing in 1831, and within 15 years of his discovery it had been introduced to Britain by the botanist Robert Fortune, who made his name collecting unusual and rare plants from Asia. 

It grows naturally among limestone rocks, with wide-spreading roots and branches. Often cultivated by the Chinese in the vicinity of temples and cemeteries, in Korea it’s also used for lumber, and the seeds and oil are eaten. 

Records indicate that Laura Barnes procured a specimen of this tree from Upper Bank Nurseries in 1934 and another from Morris Arboretum in 1941. 

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