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Ponderosa PinePinus ponderosa

  • Ponderosa Pine evergreen
  • Ponderosa Pine - Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa
The Ponderosa pine is a large, straight trunked tree with a wide, open, irregularly cylindrical crown. The narrow to broad pyramidal crown on young trees flattens out on old trees with lower branch loss. The bark on the young trees is blackish or dark red-brown and furrowed, and on mature trees yellow brown to russet broken up into scaly plates separated by deep, irregular fissures. The thick bark makes it very resistant to wild fires. Dark gray-green, olive or yellow green needles are in threes, rarely two or five. The reddish brown or tan cone scales have prickly tips. This is a yellow pine with yellow or light brown heartwood. The root system is wide spreading with a deep taproot. Moderate to rapid growth rates vary within the species. Ponderosa pine grows best in full sun and deep, moist, well drained soil, but will adapt to a wide range of soil and growing conditions including alkaline, dry, low humidity, wind,and high elevation. It is highly drought tolerant once established. It is damaged by late frosts and is intolerant of shade. Under cultivation it grows 60'-100' with a 25'-30' spread, and 150'-230' in the wild.

Hardiness Zones

The ponderosa pine can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 3–7. View Map

Tree Type

Mature Size

The ponderosa pine grows to a height of 60–100' and a spread of 25–30' at maturity.

Growth Speed Medium Growth Rate

This tree grows at a medium rate, with height increases of 13–24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun is the ideal condition for this tree, meaning it should get at least six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The ponderosa pine adapts to a variety of soil conditions at high and low elevations including deep, moist, well-drained, loamy sand, clay loam, rocky, dry, alkaline and salt soils. It is highly drought-tolerant once established but is intolerant of excessively wet or poorly drained sites.

Attributes

This tree:
  • Develops a deep taproot, making it very wind-resistant.
  • Becomes fire-resistant once mature due to its thick bark.
  • Can be used for a windbreak, buffer strip, reclamation, lumber and mass landscape planting.
  • Features stout, green to yellowish-green needles 5–7" in length that are usually tufted at the ends of mostly bare branches.
  • Produces reddish-brown cones that are 3–6" in length. Each cone scale is tipped with a sharp prickle.
  • Gives off a sweet aroma.
  • Matures to an irregular, cylindrical shape. It begins growing in a pyramidal shape.

Wildlife Value

The seeds provide food for birds and small mammals, particularly turkeys, nuthatches, crossbills, grosbeaks, pine siskins, grouse, squirrels, chipmunks and mice. The leaves, twigs and bark are browsed by porcupines, mule deer and elk. Snags (standing dead trees) provide a large number of wildlife species with nesting and roosting sites.

History/Lore

The Scottish botanist David Douglas named this pine for its ponderous or heavy wood. Other common names are yellow pine, western longleaf pine, bull pine, western red pine, western pitch pine, Sierra brownbark pine, ponderosa white pine and black jack pine.

Native Americans used this tree extensively. The inner bark was ground into emergency flour, and the young cones were boiled for emergency food. In the spring, the bark was scraped and eaten raw as a sweet treat. Inner bark gum was used for medicine. The needles were steeped to make a tea.

The ponderosa pine also provided canoes for Lewis and Clark after they crossed the Rocky Mountains into the headwaters of the Columbia River.