Ponderosa Pine—Or maybe you call it Bull Pine, Black Jack, Western Yellow Pine, or One of Many Other Names

Three subspecies have been identified through-mitochondrial DNA.

What a surprise! The ponderosa pine is one of the first trees with a distribution in most of the WESTERN part of the US and part of Canada! According to National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees (Western Region,1980) this is the most widely distributed pine in the United States. Its range includes British Columbia. In Colorado the species covers about 2 million acres. The Colorado State Forest Service website, also says this is about 8 % of the forested area of the state. Ackerman mentions the tree grows from about 4600-9600 elevation. (Flora of Colorado, 2015.)

Like many of the other trees discussed in this blog, the ponderosa pine appears to be a  complex species. Even its “discovery” may be controversial with some sources citing 1820 and others mentioning 1805 passages from Lewis & Clark Expedition. According to the Gymnosperm Database, three subspecies have been determined through mitochondrial DNA. The three varieties appear to have geographic distinctions, too. The groupings include the northernmost trees, Pacific trees, and the more interior trees. Chris Earle, the author of conifers.org, indicates there does not seem to be interbreeding where the northern family shares habitat with the Pacific group.

This species are normally tall, straight trees with the trunk free of lower branches. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Ponderosa pine is one of the three highest producing lumber species in the western United States. Its wood is used for everything from veneer to construction. Apparently the trunks were sometimes used as flagpoles as at least one story of the origin of the name Flagstaff in Arizona, involves a ponderosa pine displaying the US flag.

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Ponderosa pine needles showing length and the bundles of two

The ponderosa pine provided Native Americans with food, medicine, and transportation in the form of canoes or snowshoes, as well as construction material and dyes. Almost the entire plant could be eaten. The many medicinal uses included the usual ointment for infections, skin conditions, and pain control. A less commonly mentioned use of tree parts in medicine was needles being tools for dermatological and gynecological reasons. The rosin left over after turpentine distillation is used on violin bows.

Monumental Trees lists the oldest ponderosa, located in Yosemite, to be more than 1020, although a 1914 record of a tree in southwest Colorado was measured at 1047 years. As might be expected for a tree that is only native to North America, the United States also has the widest and tallest trees. The record for height is a tree in Oregon measured to be over 268 feet tall.

At least four species of Ips beetle can infect ponderosa pines. These beetles normally attack dying or stressed trees, but when there are excess beetles they may attack and kill healthy trees. For the eighteen years from 1996 to 2014, the mountain pine beetle damaged over 3 million acres of trees in  Colorado alone. Although these beetles have always destroyed some trees, according to the National Park Service recent outbreaks had become more severe. According to the Colorado State Forest, though, the problem may have begun to abate in 2017. In the past, long term cold snaps killed off many of the noxious beetles, but with warmer winters, good forestry management techniques must be employed, including thinning of trees, and solar treatment of logs from downed trees to help control the destructive insects. With climate change, the forests of the West, as well as the rest of the world, may be changing.

The Ponderosa pines on the Fort Collins Self-guided Tree Tour are easy to find. They still sport the rustic signs first used to identify the trees.

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The appearance of the bark changes as the tree ages

To find  C152 Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), drive to the west end of Oak Street, just east of the intersection with Bryan Street. The trees are in front of the pottery studio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southwestern White Pine–Food for Bears?

Pinecones aren’t always helpful in identification, especially when they are missing or misplaced.

I put off a post about the southwestern white pine, Pinus strobiformis, until after Christmas because I figured it wouldn’t be of much use as a holiday tree. To my surprise, a site from Kansas identified it as such. The Covered Bridge Ranch in Montrose, Colorado also included it on a chart of its trees for sale for holiday decoration.

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The needles of a southwestern white pine

This variety of conifer has five needles growing per fascicle and each leaf may grow up to four inches in length.

Pinus strobiformis is found in the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the southwest/south central counties of Colorado (Ackerman, Jennifer, Flora of Colorado) where it may grow up to 9000 feet in elevation. Like many other trees it has other common names such as pino enamo, border pine, and Mexican pine (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 5th edition.)

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The branches and bark of the southwestern white pine

According to the US Forest Service, although used for window frames and some cabinetry, this species is not valuable as lumber due to its tendency toward crooked growth. It is sometimes grown for its ornamental value, and some dwarf versions are available.

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A southwestern white pine

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists this species as having large seeds, which have served as food for both wildlife and southwestern tribes. At least one paper reports the seeds are a food for black bears. Practical Plants likens the seeds to piñon nuts with a harder shell. This website also mentions a vanilla flavoring agent from the resin. Like most other pines, the resins and other parts of the plant have been used as disinfectants and medicinally for many conditions.

The Gymnosperm Database lists the largest tree in the US as being in the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico. This tree has a circumference of nearly five feet, is a bit over 111 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 62 feet. The oldest tree is also in New Mexico but is part of the San Mateo mountains. In 2006 it was said to be 599 years old. The tallest specimen, though, is in the San Juan Forest of Colorado. In 2014 it was measured as being nearly 128 feet tall.

To find C173 Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis) in Fort Collins City Park, start near the corner of Mulberry Street and Sheldon Drive. This specimen is on the east side of the road, behind a larger conifer, more or less across from the outhouse on the W side of the road.

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Is this the cone of the southwestern white pine?

Note on pinecones. It seems like conifer cones would be a useful way to help identify what kind of tree you are looking at. I found this specimen under the pine tree, but does it actually belong to this tree? It was the only cone. Between this tree and the conifer nearer to the road were strewn a number of other, slightly different cones. Descriptions of the white pine cone vary. How and where the cone grows on the tree can be of use in identification. Alas, no cones were visible on this tree at the time of viewing, eliminating the direction of growth as a helpful indicator.