It is needle leaf, evergreen tree reaching up to 20 m in height. Bark brown, broken into scaly plates with resin-filled pockets. Leaves dark green, linear, sessile, spiral in origin, but twisted at base to form two ranks, persisting many years. Mature cones nearly cylindrical, 3ˆ8.5 cm long by 2ˆ3 cm thick, dark purple when growing.
The wood is light in weight, relatively soft, low in shock resistance and has good splitting resistance, it is primarily used as pulpwood, lumber and firewood. Minor uses include paneling, crates, and other products not requiring high structural strength. The tree provides food or cover for some animals and both food and cover for others. Oleoresin from the bark is used as a medium for mounting microscopic specimens and as a cement for various parts of optical systems. It is also used in the manufacture of medicinal compounds and spirit varnishes.
It grows best in the eastern part of its range in south-eastern Canada and the north-eastern United States. This area is characterized by cool temperatures and abundant moisture. It grows on a wide range of inorganic and organic soils originating from glaciation and generally falling within the acid Spodosol, Inceptisol, and Histosol soil orders. These are characterized by a thick mor humus and a well-defined A2 horizon, usually gray in appearance because of leaching, and commonly caused by abundant rainfall, cool climate, and coniferous cover. Many of the glacial till soils in New England are shallow and have a compact layer about 46 cm below the surface.