Sand Pine

The sand pine’s natural range is limited almost entirely to Florida. Two varieties exist — Pinus clausa var. clausa known as Ocala sand pine and Pinus clausa var. immuginata known as Choctawhatchee sand pine. The major difference between varieties lies in their cone serotiny — serotinous pine cones may persist unopened on the tree for years and open only in response to forest fire. Ocala sand pines have serotinous cones.1

The largest sand pine concentration is the Ocala variety that grows in north-central Florida in an area often referred to as the “Big Scrub” of the Ocala National Forest. This variety of sand pine also grows in a narrow strip along the east coast of Florida from St. Augustine southward to Fort Lauderdale. On the Gulf Coast small tracts of Ocala sand pine can be found scattered from a few kilometers north of Tampa southward to Naples. The less abundant Choctawhatchee variety is found growing along the coast in western Florida from Apalachicola to Pensacola and extending westward into Baldwin County, AL. Natural stands of Choctawhatchee sand pine are most abundant in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, FL.2

Sand pine grows on very dry sand ridges that are thought to be former Pleistocene3 dunes and shorelines. The terrain is hilly to gently rolling. Ocala sand pine ranges in elevation from 20 feet to 200 feet, and Choctawhatchee sand pine from near sea level to 295 feet. Sand pine grows in well-drained to excessively drained, acidic sandy soils of marine origin. These soils are primarily Entisols4 derived from quartz sand.

Plant Facts:

Common Name:  Sand pine, scrub pine, spruce pine

Botanical Name:  Pinus clausa (Chapm. ex Engelm.) Vasey ex Sarg.

Plant Type:  Slow growing evergreen tree or shrub. Sand pine is a small, narrow, evergreen conifer with a dense, pointed crown of highly divided branches.

Zones:  8-10

Height:  Typical: 30 to 80 ft, Maximum: 103 ft

Soil Requirements:  Dry sandy soil.

Water Requirements:  Drought resistant once established.

Light Requirements:  Full sun.

Leaves:  Leaves are needle-like, 2-3.5 inches in length, 2 needles per fascicle, rarely 3.  Leaves are dark green and flexible. Leaves are often persistent through the end of the second season. 

Flowers:  The male clusters are yellow, occasionally with an orange tinge.  Females are yellowish-green and are commonly solitary.

Fruit:  The cones are small, about 1-3 inches long, conical to ovoid, and sessile or nearly so.  Scales are hard and stiff, the inner surface is darker brown at the tip than the remaining surface.  Seeds, including wings, are 1/4-1 inch long.  The primary distinguishing characteristic between the Ocala and Choctawhatchee varieties of sand pine is that the Ocala variety is predominantly serotinous (cones remain closed for a long time after maturation) and the Choctawhatchee variety is predominantly nonserotinous (cones open after maturation). 5

Uses:  Woodland plantings. Commercially sand pine is used for fuel and pulpwood. The species’ small size has prevented its use for structural lumber. Sand pine seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals.  The sand pine canopy creates habitat for numerous woodpeckers, songbirds, and birds of prey, as well as grey and flying squirrels. The federally endangered Florida scrub jay will occasionally nest in young sand pine. The Choctawhatchee sand pine is grown for Christmas trees because of its short, heavily foliated branches and dark green needles.1

Propagation:  Scarified seeds.

Insects:  Bark beetles (Ips spp.) and sand pine sawfly (Neodiprion pratti) are the main insects that damage sand pine. Bark beetle attacks are associated with stresses such as drought or crowded stand conditions. The saw fly can defoliate entire stands. Tip moths (Rhyacionia spp.), aphids, and scales can cause some undesirable deformity and discoloration in Christmas tree plantations.1

Disease:  Mushroom root rot caused by Clitocybe tabescens occurs in plantations sites where the soil is not well-drained.1

Sources: 1Carey, Jennifer H. 1992. Pinus clausa. In: Fire Effects Information System; 2R. H. Brendemuehl, Pinus
clausa (Chapm. ex Engelm.) Vasey ex Sarg
.; 3Pleistocene; 4Entisols; 5Florida Forestry
Information, Pinaceae The Pine Family
; Photos shot on location of High Ridge Scrub Trail System