Pines are evergreen, coniferous resinous trees (or rarely shrubs) growing 3–80 m tall, with the majority of species reaching 15–45 m tall. The smallest are Siberian dwarf pine and Potosi pinyon, and the tallest is a 268.35-foot (81.79-meter) tall ponderosa pine located in southern Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
The bark of most pines is thick and scaly, but some species have thin, flaking bark. The branches are produced in regular "pseudo whorls", actually a very tight spiral but appearing like a ring of branches arising from the same point. Many pines are uninodal, producing just one such whorl of branches each year, from buds at the tip of the year's new shoot, but others are multinodal, producing two or more whorls of branches per year. The spiral growth of branches, needles, and cone scales are arranged in Fibonacci number ratios. The new spring shoots are sometimes called "candles"; they are covered in brown or whitish bud scales and point upward at first, then later turn green and spread outward. These "candles" offer foresters a means to evaluate fertility of the soil and vigour of the trees.
Pines are long-lived, typically reaching ages of 100–1,000 years, some even more. The longest-lived is the Great Basin bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva. One individual of this species, dubbed Methuselah, is one of the world's oldest living organisms at around 4,600 years old. This tree can be found in the White Mountains of California. An older tree, unfortunately now cut down, was dated at 4,900 years old. It was discovered in a grove beneath Wheeler Peak and it is now known as Prometheus after the Greek immortal.
Pines are among the most commercially important of tree species, valued for their timber and wood pulp throughout the world. In temperate and tropical regions, they are fast-growing softwoods that will grow in relatively dense stands, their acidic decaying needles inhibiting the sprouting of competing hardwoods. Commercial pines are grown in plantations for timber that is denser, more resinous, and therefore more durable than spruce (Picea). Pine wood is widely used in high-value carpentry items such as furniture, window frames, panelling, floors and roofing, and the resin of some species is an important source of turpentine. Many pine species make attractive ornamental plantings for parks and larger gardens, with a variety of dwarf cultivars being suitable for smaller spaces. Pines are also commercially grown and harvested for Christmas trees. Pine cones, the largest and most durable of all conifer cones, are craft favorites. Pine boughs, appreciated especially in wintertime for their pleasant smell and greenery, are popularly cut for decorations. A number of species are attacked by nematodes, causing pine wilt disease, which can kill some quickly. Pine needles are also used for making decorative articles like baskets, trays, pots, etc. This Native American skill is now being replicated across the world. Pine needle handicrafts are made in the US, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua and India. Pine needles serve as food for various Lepidoptera. See List of Lepidoptera that feed on pines. Because pines have no insect or decay resistant qualities after logging, they are generally recommended for construction purposes as indoor use only (ex. indoor drywall framing). This wood left outside can be expected to last no more than 12–18 months depending on the type of climate it is exposed to. It is commonly referred to by several different names which include North American timber, SPF (spruce, pine, fir) and whitewood.