Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 8: Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine

The 2016 Durham’s Finest Tree nominations were evaluated in the fall of 2016.  The winners were announced at the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24th, 2017 in the Durham Arts Center.  Of the sixteen trees nominated last year, seven met the criteria of a fine example of a tree species due to their size, historical importance or other meritorious significance.

The Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) near the southeast corner of Virginia Avenue and Club Boulevard in the Old West Durham Neighborhood of Durham1 won in the Large Category.  The Loblolly Pine has a low tolerance to shade and this pine tree developed a very large canopy in its open urban environment.


Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine by Wendy Diaz, October 29, 2016


Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine Description   

The Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine is fairly tall with a circumference of 103 inches.  It is 99 feet in height with a canopy spread of 52 feet.  This tree has had little competition and has grown a large canopy with a crown spread several feet wider than the State Champion, though it is not as tall as the North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located in Bertie County northeastern North Carolina (height of 175 feet, trunk circumference of 170 inches and crown spread of 41 feet)2.

Looking north along Virginia Avenue at the Loblolly Pine.  Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 29, 2016
The very large crown spread of 52 feet of the Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine.
Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016

Species Description

The species Pinus taeda is native to southeastern United States ranging from southern New Jersey to Florida and west to eastern Texas3.  The species prefers medium to wet, poorly drained acidic soils and full sun. It is a fast growing, medium to tall growing conifer that is excurent4 (forms undivided straight trunk) and can grow to over 100 feet in height and nearly 3 feet in diameter but typically grows from 40 to 90 feet in height and 20 to 40 feet spread. The green leaves or needles are in fascicles of 3 and up to 10 inches long. Male and female cones are present on the tree, however, only the male cones are yellow and produce pollen every spring. The female cones (3 to 6 inches long) turn green after pollination and eventually turn brown and release seeds when they mature.

The long needles and open canopy of the Loblolly Pine make this tree a very attractive pine. The grey-brown scaly bark develops furrows with age3. The common name of Loblolly means mudhole and refers to the swampy areas where the tree often grows in the wild.3 The Loblolly Pine is susceptible to the southern pine beetle and the pine engraver beetle. This species is the most commercially important tree species in the southeastern United States. Lumber, pulp for paper and cardboard, and biomass for heat energy and biofuels are all produced from its harvested timber4. The Loblolly stem bark is resistant to decomposition by soil and root-inhabiting fungi and as a result makes good pine bark mulch5. Living mature Loblolly trees also provide habitat to endangered ‘keystone’ species, the red-cockaded woodpecker6.


Furrowed scaley grey-brown bark of the Loblolly Pine. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 29, 2016

Local History

In the last decade of the 19th Century, the Dukes and George W. Watts expanded their businesses into the textile industry.   Benjamin N. Duke hired William Allen Erwin to manage a new textile mill in 1892 to ‘manufacture muslin for tobacco bags’. Erwin Cotton Mills was built near Hillsborough Road and 9th Street. The modest residential houses built to the north encompassing The Old West Durham neighborhood was largely developed for mill workers between the late 1890’s and 19131.

Although the Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine is very tall and large, the species is fast growing and probably was planted after the streets of Old West Durham were constructed as part of the Erwin Cotton Mills development in the early 20th century. The annual yellow menace (pine pollen) in April is a small price to pay for this majestic pine tree that provides shade and other benefits to this urban environment.

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Close up of numerous male cones (produces pollen), which will produce pollen in the spring, on the Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016


  7. May 18, 2017 & August 10, 2017
  8. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2017. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees nominated in 2017 will be recognized on Durham’s Arbor Day in 2018. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

Durham’s Finest Trees awarded recognition to seven trees in the spring as part of the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24, 2017 held at the Durham Arts Council7. On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees (nominated in the 2015, the first year of the Durham’s Finest Tree program) located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.8