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Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), sometimes called Bull Pine, Blackjack Pine, or Western Yellow Pine, is a widespread and variable pine native to western North America. It was first described by David Douglas in 1826, from eastern Washington near present-day Spokanemarker. It is a dominant tree in the Kuchler plant association Ponderosa shrub forest. Like most western pines, the ponderosa is associated with mountainous topography. It is found on the Black Hillsmarker and on foothills and mid-height peaks of the northern, central and southern Rocky Mountains as well as the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.

Modern forestry research identifies four different taxa of Ponderosa Pine, with differing botanical characters and adapted to different climatic conditions. These have been termed "geographic races" in forestry literature, while some botanists historically treated them as distinct species. In modern botanical usage, they best match the rank of subspecies, but not all of the relevant botanical combinations have been formally published.

The Ponderosa Pine has a very distinct bark. Unlike most conifers, it has an orange bark, with black lining the crevasses, where the bark "splits". This is very noticeable amongst the older Ponderosa Pines that live along the west coast of Canada. It can often be identified by its characteristic long needles that grow in tufts of three. Its needles are also the only known food of the caterpillars of the gelechiid moth Chionodes retiniella.

The National Register of Big Trees lists a number of large Ponderosa Pines up to tall. and in girth.


  1. Pinus ponderosa subsp. ponderosa Douglas ex C. Lawson - North Plateau Ponderosa Pine.
    • Range & climate: southeast British Columbiamarker, Washingtonmarker and Oregonmarker east of the Cascade Range, Arizonamarker, northwestern Nevadamarker, Idahomarker and western Montanamarker. Cool, relatively moist summers; very cold, snowy winters (except in the very hot and very dry summers of central Oregon, most notably near Bend, which also has very cold and generally dry winters).
  2. Pinus ponderosa subsp. scopulorum (Engelm.) E. Murray - Rocky Mountains Ponderosa Pine.
  3. Pinus brachyptera Engelm. - Southwestern Ponderosa Pine
    • Range & climate: southern Coloradomarker, southern Utahmarker, northern and central New Mexicomarker and Arizonamarker, and westernmost Texasmarker. The Gila Wildernessmarker contains one of the world's largest and healthiest forests. Hot, relatively moist summers; mild winters.
  4. Pinus benthamiana Hartw. - Pacific Ponderosa Pine

The distributions of the subspecies, and that of the closely related Arizona Pine (Pinus arizonica) are shown on the map. The numbers on the map correspond to the taxon numbers above and in the table below. The base map of the species range is from Critchfield & Little, Geographic Distribution of the Pines of the World, USDA Forest Service Miscellaneous Publication 991 (1966).

Before the distinctions between the North Plateau race and the Pacific race were fully documented, most botanists assumed that Ponderosa Pines in both areas were the same. So when two botanists from California found a distinct tree in western Nevada in 1948 with some marked differences from the Ponderosa Pine they were familiar with in California, they described it as a new species, Washoe Pine, Pinus washoensis. However, subsequent research has shown that this is merely a southern outlier of the typical North Plateau race of Ponderosa Pine.

Table of characters distinguishing the subspecies of Pinus ponderosa and Pinus arizonica

 Taxon  1 North Plateau   2 Rocky Mts   3 Southwest   4 Pacific     5 Arizona   6 Storm's 
 Character  (ponderosa  (scopulorum  (brachyptera  (benthamiana    (arizonica  (stormiae
 Needles per fascicle  3  2-3  2-3  3    4-5  3-5
 Needle length  10–22 cm  8–17 cm  12–21 cm  15–30 cm    12–22 cm  20–30 cm
 Needle thickness  1.7-2.2 mm  1.5-1.7 mm  1.6-1.9 mm  1.3-1.7 mm    1.0-1.1 mm  1.0-1.2 mm
 Cone length  5–11 cm  5–9 cm  5–10 cm  7–16 cm    5–9 cm  6–11 cm
 Cone scale width  14–19 mm  16–20 mm  14–19 mm  18–23 mm    15–18 mm  12–17 mm
 Immature cone colour  purple  green  green  green    green  green
 Mature cone surface  matte  matte  glossy  glossy    glossy  matte
 Seedwing to seed length ratio   1.9-2.5  2.1-3.4  3.0-3.5  3.0-4.7    2.8-3.2  3.0-3.5
 Max tree height  50 m  40 m  50 m  70 m    35 m  20 m
 USDA hardiness zone  4  4  6  7    7  8

Taxon numbers refer to the map

Needles per fascicle - the most frequent number is in bold

Seedwing : seed length ratio - high numbers indicate a small seed with a long wing; low numbers a large seed with a short seedwing


File:Ponderosa_SFVF.jpg|Ponderosa woodlandFile:Pinus ponderosa cones.jpg|branch with cones



  • Baumgartner, D. M. & Lotan, J. E. (eds.) (1988). Ponderosa Pine the species and its management. Symposium proceedings. Cooperative Extension, Washington State University.
  • Conkle, M. T. & Critchfield, W. B. (1988). Genetic Variation and Hybridization of Ponderosa Pine. Pp. 27–44 in Baumgartner, D. M. & Lotan, J. E. (eds.).
  • Critchfield, W. B. (1984). Crossability and relationships of Washoe Pine. Madroño 31: 144-170.
  • Farjon, A. (2nd ed., 2005). Pines. Brill, Leiden & Boston. ISBN 90-04-13916-8.
  • Haller, J. R. (1961). Some recent observations on Ponderosa, Jeffrey and Washoe Pines in Northeastern California. Madroño 16: 126-132.
  • Haller, J. R. (1965). Pinus washoensis in Oregon: taxonomic and evolutionary implications. Amer. J. Bot. 52: 646.
  • Haller, J. R. (1965). The role of 2-needle fascicles in the adaptation and evolution of Ponderosa Pine. Brittonia 17: 354-382.
  • Lauria, F. (1991). Taxonomy, systematics, and phylogeny of Pinus subsection Ponderosae Loudon (Pinaceae). Alternative concepts. Linzer Biol. Beitr. 23 (1): 129-202.
  • Lauria, F. (1996). The identity of Pinus ponderosae Douglas ex C.Lawson (Pinaceae). Linzer Biol. Beitr. 28 (2): 99-1052.
  • Lauria, F. (1996). Typification of Pinus benthamiana Hartw. (Pinaceae), a taxon deserving renewed botanical examination. Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien 98 (B Suppl.): 427-446.
  • Smith, R. H. (1977). Monoterpenes of Ponderosa Pine xylem resin. USDA Tech. Bull. 1532.
  • Smith, R. H. (1981). Variation in Immature Cone Color of Ponderosa Pine (Pinaceae) inNorthern California and Southern Oregon. Madroño 28: 272-274.
  • Van Haverbeke, D. F. (1986). Genetic Variation in Ponderosa Pine: A 15-Year Test of Provenances in the Great Plains. USDA Forest Service Research Paper RM-265.
  • Wagener, W. W. (1960). A comment on cold susceptibility of Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pines. Madroño 15: 217-219.
  • Gymnosperm Database: Pinus ponderosa
  • USDA Plants Profile: Pinus ponderosa

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