Pine Needle Options for Coiled Baskets

Pine Needle Coiled Baskets by Peg's Basketry Arnoldussen
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This information, including illustrations, and probably everything you will ever need to know about coiled basketry, is published in "Coiled Art with Pine Needles."

I'm developing this page out of need: I live in the northern interior of the country, where long needle pines don't seem to be indigenous. My goal is to find a species that, even though not indigenous, will grow in Wisconsin. As people provide me with information about their own favorite trees and where they grow, I will post it, so we can all benefit.

Postscript: Found a source for a Ponderosa pine, ordered, and have planted. Click here: Great Lakes Nursery. (Available on web site for spring and fall planting only.) As of 28 July 2004, my ponderosa is beautiful and flourishing.

Sorry. I do not have access to lists of growers for the various species listed below. If you are looking for a tree, please try a web search using keywords: nursery and the species name.


I use both Ponderosa Pine (pinus ponderosa) and Bull Pine; my preference is the Bull Pine. There are three needles to a cluster and they are quite thick. If the tree is receiving enough water, the length of the needles averages 10-10.5 inches. The Ponderosa is just slightly shorter. You will have a nicer tree to look at with a Bull Pine, also. --Carol Miller, Montana

Clarification: I spoke with the nursery, and they said the two trees are one and the same (pinus ponderosa), but what accounts for the difference between them is genetics. They said to look for a tree that you feel is overly full when you purchase it, and keep it a good distance from any other trees, so it does not have to compete. And water, water, water! --Carol Miller, Montana


My favorite needles come from the Coulter pine (pinus coulteri), a tree that is native to northern California; however, they do even better in Seattle--much denser growth than in the wild. These trees are quite hardy, but people who have never seen one and are considering planting one should know that these are BIG trees with huge, wood-like cones. I have also planted two southern pines (pinus palustris). My brother in law, who has a forestry degree, told me that these, too, are quite hardy and that there is no reason not to grow them here. They do stay in a "grass" stage (looking like a big clump of grass) for about five years. Then they start to shoot up rather quickly. One of mine is about 6 ft. and the other is half that. 20" long needles. I have also planted a Jeffrey pine (pinus jeffreyi), similar to a Ponderosa but with longer needles, similar hardiness. I have a Bull pine (pinus sabiniana), also native to California but thrives here, thinner needles than most, but has the advantage for gardeners of filtering rather than blocking out sunlight.

My last bit is pretty interesting. We visit San Diego regularly, and my family accepts that there will be gathering to do for Torrey pine needles (pinus torreyana). I had an interesting conversation a couple of years ago with Mike Lee, owner of Colvos Creek Nursery and "plantsman extraordinaire." I was teasing him about having listed Torrey pines for sale in his catalogue and laughingly asked him how they were doing. He explained to me that before the last ice age, Torrey pines had actually grown here and that during the ice age they were pushed down to that small area where they now grow and where they really aren't doing that well. He said they grow perfectly well up here. So I planted one. It has been through two winters and is still with me. It was never an attractive specimen, and still looks a little like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, but it IS growing. So we will see. I think that people who are looking for recommendations should list their plant hardiness zones (and be sure to differentiate between Western Garden Book zones and USDA zones). People should check out large parks and arboretums near their homes. Often you will find specimen trees that are not natives. When I started looking around, I was lucky in that a man named Arthur Lee Jacobsen had written a book called "Trees of Seattle," where he listed addresses and parks where specific trees could be found, including a chapter on "Long Needled Pines"! I wish everyone could be so lucky. --Sue Marvin, Washington


I live in the desert in southern California. The only pine trees locally accessible are imported and have needles about 3 inches long. As a result, I go to the San Bernardino Mountains to collect. I have used Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine and Sugar Pine (pinus lambertiana) needles. I also have access to a Montezuma Pine (pinus montezumae) tree. I do not divulge the location of it, though, because it is very rare. They are native to Mexico and farther south. There are some in California, and I happened to find one. The short needles from the Montezuma are 18 inches, and I have many bundles in the 20 - 26 inch range. They are thinner than the Torreys from San Diego, and much more flexible. I enjoy working with them. --Kathi Klopfenstein, California


The pine needles which I find are Canary Island pine (pinus canariensis) and found locally. I know Torrey pine is wonderful, however there are times I prefer thinner pine needles because they make a smoother coil. --Toni Best, California


On the Gulf Coast, we have southern longleaf (or yellow) pines (pinus palustris). They are beautiful. Longest needles measure to 22 inches. Many have 4 needles to the bunch, and sometimes they're a nuisance.pine needles The older trees stand 25 to 60 feet tall, producing the 12 - 14" needles. The younger ones, up to 25 feet, produce the 14 - 18" needles. Note: For those searching for long needles, you will find the longest needles on trees that are no more than head high.

Most of what I have range in the 12 - 14" category. In the spring and fall, I have to haul pickup loads of them out of the yard.--Tom Arnold, Alabama


Here in Northwest Arkansas, the longest needle I can find to use for baskets is the Loblolly Pine (pinus taeda). I have picked some green and dried them. They are only 6 to 8 inches long, and very fine, so it takes a lot to make a basket. The ones dried in the shade stay light green, the ones dried in the sun (have to be turned) turn a nice toasty brown. The shorter, finer needles like these, I prefer to use for pine needle ornaments. For baskets, I have been mail-ordering needles from South Carolina (Longleaf Yellow Pine).--Sally Kiker, Arkansas


I am blessed to live in coastal North Carolina, and pick the needles off the ground in my yard. In fact, I started making pine needle baskets because I thought, "there surely is a better use for these pine needles other than putting them in the garden as mulch." So, I looked up pine needle basket books on Barnes and Noble, and the rest is history, so to speak.

I have picked up needles that are 17 inches in length, but the average length is about 13-14 inches. The needles are usually in clusters of 3, but I have found some with 5 and 6 in a cluster. They are fairly fine and deep rust to brown.

I have about 50 long leaf pine trees (pinus palustris) on my property, and am constantly picking them up and sorting them. I even have about 1000 -8 ounce bundles I have frozen (to remove possible bug damage) and store on a bookshelf in the spare room. In this way, I will be able to use the needles even if they are not falling to the ground certain times of the year. --Melanie, North Carolina


I live in the Colorado mountains and I think most of the pines here are the Ponderosa type. I've found a variety of lengths, depending on the age of the trees. My niece has a very old tree that I can get the 10-12 inch pine needles from, but the average length here is 5-7 inches. --Nora Voss, Colorado


I spoke to a horticulturist who keeps the local arboretum. He told me the following:

A ponderosa pine, which has a cousin or two (pinus jeffreyi) plus a couple of subspecies, is probably our only hope here in Wisconsin. It is a zone 4 tree. (pinus ponderosa, pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa, pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum). He also suggested possibly a Himalayan pine (pinus wallichiana) or what he called a David's Pine, which is listed as Chinese white pine (pinus armandii).

I've received an updated report from a friend at church, Andy, whose dad is a forestry professor at a university. He says that pinus wallichiana and pinus armandii are zone 5 trees. They will only grow in southern Wisconsin and along the Lake Michigan shoreline to about 20 miles inland. --Peg Arnoldussen, Wisconsin

USDA climate zones for plants

Various Pines

Pinus Palustris--needle of choice


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