In the past, it was a major source of pitch and timber for ship building, mine timbers, and railroad ties, because the wood's high resin content preserves it from decay. The needles are in fascicles of three, about 6 to 13 cm in length, and are stout (over 1 mm broad) and often slightly twisted. The cones are 4 to 7 cm long and oval with prickles on the scales. Pitch pine has an exceptionally high regenerative ability; if the main trunk is cut or damaged by fire it can re-sprout using epicormic shoots. This is one of its many adaptations to fire, which also includes a thick bark to protect the sensitive cambium layer from heat. Burnt trees often form stunted, twisted trees with multiple trunks as a result of the resprouting. This characteristic also makes it a popular species for bonsai.
This pine occupies a variety of habitats from dry acidic sandy uplands to swampy lowlands, and can survive in very poor conditions.