Why Do Pine Trees Give Off Sap?

A close-up of sap from a pine tree.
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Pine tree sap is a natural part of the tree, and it's normal for pine trees to give off some sap. ​Sap​ is the sticky, golden substance that moves through trees to circulate water and nutrients, much like blood in veins. Pine trees produce sap all year long, but it flows the strongest in the spring and early summer, according to The Davey Tree Expert Company. Pine trees produce golden sap, and it's common to see some pine sap oozing from a healthy tree – but if the sap is white or puddling, the pine tree may be affected by a pest or disease.

What Is Sap?

Tree sap moves sugars and moisture around the parts of the plant, from the roots to the leaves. Sap moves through special vascular tissues in the tree called the ​xylem​ and ​phloem​. Sap is constantly circulating in trees, bringing nutrients absorbed from the soil by the roots up and food produced by the leaves down.

According to Washington State University, all plants make sap, not just trees. You notice sap in trees more often because it's gooey – and in the case of pine trees, it has a distinctive smell that can remind you of visiting a Christmas tree farm.

Some tree saps are safe (and delicious!) for humans to eat. Because tree sap is high in sugars, boiling tree sap causes the water from the sap to evaporate, which concentrates the sugars. The sap of sugar maple trees is collected and boiled in large quantities in Canada and the northeastern United States to produce gallons of maple syrup.

When Pine Sap Oozes

Pine sap may ooze from the bark of a tree in the spring, when the tree is budding. The plant is making more sap to feed the new growth, and the tree may give off some of the excess sap during the growing season. It's also normal to see some sap oozing after a tree has been pruned, just as humans bleed when they are cut.

If the pine tree sap is pooling or puddling, that's a sign that there's a problem with the tree. If you see holes in the bark, dead sections of bark, sap that isn't golden-brown or a large wound that is oozing sap, it may be time to call an arborist. The excessive sap could be caused by an insect or disease that can be treated in time to save the tree.

The Tree Center notes that some tree species are known as "bleeders" for their tendency to ooze large quantities of sap when injured. Tree sap helps seal wounds so the tree can heal, and it also contains chemicals that can help prevent diseases and repel insects.

Uses of Pine Tree Sap

Pine tree sap is not edible like maple sugar tree sap, but there are plenty of other uses for the gooey substance. Historically, pine sap has been used to treat wounds because of its stickiness and its antiseptic properties. It can also be used in glues, candles, for starting fires and for waterproofing.

Turpentine, a chemical found in the resin of some pine trees, is used in soaps, cosmetics and cleaning products. It is also used in varnishes and for thinning oil-based paints.

Although there are many applications for pine tree sap, sometimes the sticky substance ends up somewhere you don't want it, like on your clothes or a vehicle. It's usually easy to remove sap if you find it before it hardens, but it can be difficult to remove once it solidifies. Double check pine sap removal methods before trying to get hardened sap off your car, hair or skin.

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