Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is native to western North America in sixteen states as well as southern British Columbia, Canada. This tree is also known as the bull pine, blackjack pine, or western pitch, red and yellow pine, as well as Yosemite pine.

The Ponderosa pine grows at sea level up to 9843 feet above sea level and can live 300-600 years. This pine is one of the largest pine trees growing to heights of 235 feet and can achieve a trunk diameter of 324 inches. The bark of mature trees is cinnamon-red with deep furrows creating scaly bark; whereas the younger trees’ bark is black to reddish-brown and smooth. The needles grow in bundles of two to four and measure five to ten inches long. Male cones are orange or yellow and grow in clusters on the tips of branches. Female cones are red-brown in color and measure three-five inches long, oval, and has a prickle on the tip of each scale. Each scale yields two seeds measuring .75 inches long with a wingspan of one inch. Seeds are dispersed in the second year after germination in August and September.

The Ponderosa pine grows in all types of soils from the gravelly to the sandy clay or loam. The roots are shallow, sometimes deep, and sometimes found growing on bare rock with the roots in rocks and crevices around the tree. This pine does not tolerate wet soils and only requires 11.8-23.6 inches of rain per year. The Ponderosa pine is resistant to fire due to the thickness of the bark. The young saplings can withstand low intensity wildfires which destroys other vegetative growth giving way for an open area for the saplings to grow as they do not tolerate shade.

Extensive pure stands can be found in the Black Hills of North Dakota as well as in Wyoming. The Ponderosa pine also grows in mixed stands at lower elevations with several other pine species as well as softwoods including Rocky Mountain Douglas fir, Lodgepole pine, California White pine, Jeffrey pine and the Douglas Fir along the coast. It can be found growing mixed in with Blue Spruce in the Rocky Mountains as well as with the quaken aspen.

The Ponderosa pine is susceptible to over 108 species of insects with the most devastating of these being in the Dendroctonus species. The trees will die from blue stain fungus that is transmitted by the beetle and from the larvae of the beetle eating the tissue inside the tree that transfers the sap to other parts of the tree. The bark beetle causes root disease in older trees. Dwarf mistletoe is a disease that is widely spread throughout the forests of Ponderosa pine. Damage consists of stunted growth to total destruction and reduces the strength and life of the seed. Air pollution causes a bleaching to the needles as well as early shedding of the old needles.

The Ponderosa pine has many uses starting with the Native Americans using the logs for canoes. Different parts of the tree were used for medicinal purposes such as the boughs being used to treat muscular pine and internal hemorrhaging. The needles were used for dermatology as well as gynecology. The pitch was an ointment for all types of skin irritations, backaches, rheumatism, earaches, as well as a sleeping aid for babies. For other than medical uses, the roots were used for making blue dye and the needles were used to insulate underground storage pits.

The wood from the tree is used for fencing, lumber, and the making of snowshoes. Ponderosa pine is harvested extensively for lumber with over 1.3 billion board feet being produced every year in Oregon alone. The bark from this pine can be used as roofing on houses.

The Ponderosa pine is a source of food for many songbirds as well as turkeys, squirrels, and chipmunks. The needles are used for nesting by the blue grouse and the spruce grouse, whereas mice and porcupines use the bark. The only source of food for the caterpillar of the gelechiid moth are the needles of the Ponderosa pine.

Image Caption: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), multiple images. Credit: Clyde frogg/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)