Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Near NE corner of Chemistry Map

Mature trees have cinnamon-red bark with black crevices while younger trees have black to reddish-brown bark. The tree can often be identified by its characteristic long needles that grow in tufts of two to four.

Ponderosa pine is native to the mountains of the west, from British Columbia to Mexico, extending as far east as South Dakota. It does best in relatively dry surroundings, hence finds it difficult to compete for growing room in the native forests of the wet side of the Cascades. (Note how a neighboring Douglas fir - shown on the right of the upper photo - is out-competing our specimen tree). Given enough time (~ 100 years) a successful ponderosa pine may develop a delightful reddish (or yellowish) trunk; the dry forests near Winthrop, Washington, contain many beautiful examples. It is useful as a landscape tree only under circumstances that can accommodate its growth potential - to 200 ft. tall and 6 ft. in diameter. Pioneer tales, possibly lubricated by moonshine whiskey, speak of trees nearly 300 ft. tall.

This tree is an icon of the Old West. When John Wayne rode out of the woods in search of cattle, bad guys, or a place to camp, you can be sure that it was the sap of Pinus ponderosa he smelled. (Wayne's horses were carefully scrubbed and deodorized before each take). More buffalo has been cooked over campfires made from ponderosa pine than over fires from all other types of firewood combined (Go ahead, prove me wrong). When a beaver trapper built his cabin to "winter over", it was Pinus ponderosa he sought. If you do not like ponderosa pine you are either an Easterner, or un-American, or possibly both.

Ponderosa pine is an important source of lumber in North America, exceeded in value only by Douglas fir. It was introduced into Europe in the early 1800s and is widely planted there, although it has not proved as useful economically as anticipated. Pine nuts from Pinus ponderosa are an important food source for squirrels and other tree-dwelling varmints. Squirrels aid in its propagation by creating emergency stashes of nuts (seeds), then forgetting where they are.