I enjoy walking on the soft carpets of fallen white pine needles during my lake walks. I notice that the dropping needles are from the previous year's growth.
In early spring, buds like these extend out into needle covered branches.
It appears that the best case habit is for five branches around a central branch. Sometimes there might only be a couple of side branches. I thought that perhaps some branches didn't make it due to weather or pest damage. Then I noticed that this year's bud structures for next year's growth are sometimes formed with less that a full complement of buds.
This is such a fascinating time of year! The fall foliage is delightful but observing nature's preparations for next year's growth is way over the top. Here are Swamp Maple buds readied up for next spring.