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Pinus ponderosa

Phonetic Spelling
PI-nus pon-der-O-sa
Description

The ponderosa pine is a large evergreen conifer that may grow to a height of 60 to 125 feet and 25 to 30 feet wide and has a pyramidal to conical habit. It is the dominant pine tree in the western United States and is used for timber. The needles are dark yellowish-green and occur n bundles of three. The cones are oval, pointed, prickly, and measure 3 to 6 inches long. The bark on young trees is dark brown to black. As the tree matures, the bark becomes orangish-brown, furrowed with large scaly plates. The bark, stems, and needles emit a resinous or turpentine scent when they are broken or crushed.

This tree is found in the mountain areas of British Columbia to Mexico and as far east as North Dakota and Texas. Three distinct regional varieties of this native tree often grow in pure stands.  In the Pacific coast region, the variety Ponderosa Pine or Pacific Ponderosa Pine has long needles, three in a bundle, and large cones.  Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine or Interior Ponderosa Pine has short needles, two in a bundle, and small cones.  In southwest Arizona, you can find Arizona Pine or Arizona Ponderosa Pine which has five slender needles in a bundle.

The genus name, Pinus, is Latin for pine.  The epithet, ponderosa, means heavy and refers to its wood. The tree was discovered by David Douglas, a Scottish botanical explorer in 1826. He named the tree for its ponderous or heavy wood.

The ponderosa pine prefers full sun, and moist, well-drained, deep soil but will grow in a wide range of conditions.  It will tolerate alkaline soils and is drought tolerant. It is fire-resistant due to its thick bark, and wind-resistant due to its deep tap root. This tree does not tolerate shade, flooding, or poorly-drained soils.

Its habit is narrow pyramidal in youth, with an irregular crown with age.  It has numerous short branches and drops its lower branches.  Old trees have no branches for more than 1/2 of their height. This evergreen is long-lived and may survive up to 600 years.

The ponderosa pine and the Jeffrey pine are very similar and obtain confused. The ponderosa pine has "prickly cones," and the Jeffrey pine has softer or more "gentle cones."

The ponderosa pine does best in its native habitat and is not recommended for planting outside of its native range. Due to its size, it would be best used in parks or large recreational areas.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark:  Year-round     Foliage: Year-round     Fruit:  Late Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • bark is dark brown in young trees, and orangish-brown, furrowed on mature trees
  • needles are 5 to 10 inches long, rigid, and occur in bundles of three
  • cones are oval, 3 to 6 inches long, 2 to 4 inches wide, prickly

Insect, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  This tree is susceptible to wind damage.  There is some susceptibility to root rot, blister rust, and needle blight. The Sequoia pitch moth can attack this tree by boring into the tree at injury sites or pruned areas and causing pitch and resin to escape. The tree is also susceptible to the bark beetle, adelgids, aphids, pine sawfly, and pine shoot moths. 

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Dixie', var. scopulorum
Tags:
#evergreen#drought tolerant#wildlife plant#needles#native tree#moths#fragrant leaves#winter interest#fire low flammability#needled evergreen#deer resistant#nighttime garden#alkaline soils tolerant#pollinator plant#larval host plant#moth larvae#problem for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#wind damage prone#imperial moth#wet soils intolerant#shade intolerant#landscape plant sleuths course#cone
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Dixie', var. scopulorum
Tags:
#evergreen#drought tolerant#wildlife plant#needles#native tree#moths#fragrant leaves#winter interest#fire low flammability#needled evergreen#deer resistant#nighttime garden#alkaline soils tolerant#pollinator plant#larval host plant#moth larvae#problem for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#wind damage prone#imperial moth#wet soils intolerant#shade intolerant#landscape plant sleuths course#cone
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Pinus
    Species:
    ponderosa
    Family:
    Pinaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    It serves as an important timber tree. The lumber is used to build window frames, shelving, molding, and paneled doors. The sap is used as glue and is a source of turpentine oils. Native Americans used the inner bark and seeds as a source of food. The sap was used for chewing gum.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southwest Canada to Northern Mexico
    Distribution:
    Native: AZ, British Columbia, CA, CO, ID, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, MT, NE NV, NM, ND, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, and WY. Introduced: Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania, South Australia, Spain, and Sweden.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant supports Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) larvae which have one brood per season and appear from April-October in the south. Adult Imperial Moths do not feed. Quail, nutcrackers, and squirrels eat the seeds. They are also collected and stored by chipmunks.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Dimensions:
    Height: 60 ft. 0 in. - 125 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 25 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Tree
    Habit/Form:
    Conical
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Red/Burgundy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Length:
    > 3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    The cones are reddish-brown to grayish-brown, 3 to 6 inches long, 2 to 4 inches wide, sessile, oval, pointed, and prickly. They will turn upside down to release their seeds when the cone matures. They mature in late summer.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The tree is monoecious. The male pollen cone is red, 3/8 to 1/2-inch long, and cylinder shape. They appear in clusters at the end of the branches. The female strobili are yellow, 1/4 to 3/8-inch long, and appear at the branch tips.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Leaf Type:
    Needles
    Simple
    Leaf Shape:
    Filiform
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The needles are rigid, yellowish-green, 5 to 10 inches long, and occur in bundles of three. The needles have a resinous scent. 5 to 10 in. rigid, curved needles in bundles of 3, dark green to yellowish-green
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Black
    Dark Brown
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Scaly
    Bark Description:
    The bark on young trees is dark brown to black. In mature trees, the bark can be yellowish-brown to reddish-orange. The mature tree is also irregularly furrowed with large flat scaly plates. It has a resinous scent.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Black
    Orange
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Buds:
    Scaly
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are stout, orange, and then turn black. They are initially smooth and become scaly with age. They have a resinous scent when broken. The buds are 1-inch long, conical with a sharp point, narrow scales, and covered in resin.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Recreational Play Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Nighttime Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Moths
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Problems:
    Problem for Horses