The leaves ('needles') are in bundles of five (rarely 3 or 4), with a deciduous sheath. They are flexible, bluish-green, finely serrated, and 2–5 in long, and persist for usually about 18 months. The cones are slender, 3–6 in long and 1.5–2 in broad when open. The seeds are 3/16 in long, and are wind-dispersed. Cone production peaks every 3 to 5 years.
White pines prefer well-drained soil and cool, humid climates, but also grow in boggy areas and rocky highlands. In mixed forests, this dominant tree towers over all others, including the large hardwoods.
Mature trees can easily be 200 to 250 years old. Some white pines live over 400 years. A tree growing near Syracuse, New York was dated to 458 years in the late 1980s and trees in both Wisconsin and Michigan have approached 500 years in age. It provides food and shelter for forest birds such as the Common Crossbill and small mammals such as squirrels.