Why Do Pine Trees Give Off Sap?

A close-up of sap from a pine tree.
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Pine trees are a group of coniferous trees identified by their long needles and durability. They can often survive at elevations and in climates where other trees cannot. A few dozen varieties of pine tree are present in the United States, many found in the northern regions or in mountain ranges. The peculiar qualities of the pine tree gives its sap some unique characteristics, but the tree produces sap like other trees, and for the same purposes.


A lush pine tree forest in the mountains.
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Sap is like the lifeblood of a tree. It helps carry nutrients through the tree to where they are needed most. Roots are constantly pulling in water, minerals and other nutrients that need to be spread throughout the tree, especially to the leaves. Leaves, meanwhile, are producing simple sugars and need a way to transport through the tree fibers and get rid of their waste products. Sap is used to carry these compounds to where they are needed. It moves much slower than blood does, and is of a much thicker consistency.


A green pine cone sparkling with sap.
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Sap is mostly water, and it is the other elements added to it that makes it so thick and sticky. Sap is always rich with both minerals and carbohydrates in the form of sugar compounds that are being carried throughout the tree. Pine tree sap is especially thick, because the pine tree does not need to waste water, and too high a water content would cause the sap to freeze in the higher elevations that the pine tree is used to.

Tree Wounds

Collecting pine tree sap from the bark.
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Sap is under tremendous pressure necessary to pull it up through the tree. This pressure is combated by the pine tree's very tough bark and wood. In a deciduous tree, sap tends to leak out in plentiful amounts if the tree is wounded, cracked, or a branch is taken off. This sap also helps protect the wounded area by covering it with a preservative. Pine trees leak less sap than smooth-barked trees, but their sap still accomplishes a similar purpose.

Pine Qualities and Diseases

A close-up of a carpenter ant on pine bark.
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In addition to protecting the tree from further damage, most pine trees produce sap that also has insecticide qualities, posing a threat to any insects that may be attracted to the damaged wood. However, trees also tend to leak sap when they are damaged by disease of fungus. Pine trees are hardy and these diseases are more rare in them than other species, but trees affected by diseases may also leak sap through the bark.

Harvesting Sap

A plastic jug of turpentine, paint cans, and paint buckets.
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Some types of pine sap are harvested from the trees to make turpentine, a flammable substance used for coating objects. Turpentine is used in varnish, paint and cleaners, and although it is often produced synthetically today, its origins lay in the unique properties of pine trees that were once tapped to make the substance.