I’ve found that mature red and black pines can sometimes be hard to tell apart. Leaf character and bark can vary wildly from specimen to specimen and many trees exhibit qualities associated with both varieties. Younger trees, however, are generally easy to distinguish. The black pines I’ve grown typically have straight, sturdy needles while the red pines frequently have needles that are less sturdy and less straight.
1-1/2 year old black pine and red pine
The young black pines in my garden typically have darker green foliage than the young red pines, though I often see the opposite in older specimens.
2-1/2 year old black pine and red pine
Needle growth often appears more compact in black pines than in red pines.
3-1/2 year-old black pine and red pine
Much of this difference disappears when the trees are decandled, but when left alone, the varieties can often be distinguished by silhouette alone.
Black and red pines
One of the best ways to distinguish the varieties is to check bud color. Red pine buds are typically red.
Red pine buds
Black pine buds are, counterintuitively, white.
Black pine buds
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