Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A tree of many colors: ponderosa pine, found from Sierra Nevada foothills up to the timber line

The ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) was discovered—from a European viewpoint—by David Douglas in 1826 in Washington, near today's Spokane [1]. Ponderosa trees are naturally found in pure stands and mixed conifer forests in mountains between western Canada and Mexico, including California's Sierra Nevada. The distribution of Pinus ponderosa in the Sierra Nevada at gaining elevation has been described by mountaineer John Muir [2]:
The Silver, or Yellow, Pine, as it is commonly called, ranks second among the pines of the Sierra as a lumber tree, and almost rivals the Sugar Pine in stature and nobleness of port. Because of its superior powers of enduring variations of climate and soil, it has a more extensive range than any other conifer growing on the Sierra. On the western slope it is first met at an elevation of about 2000 feet, and extends nearly to the upper limit of the timber line. Thence, crossing the range by the lowest passes, it descends to the eastern base, and pushes out for a considerable distance into the hot volcanic plains, growing bravely upon well-watered moraines, gravelly lake basins, arctic ridges, and torrid lava-beds; planting itself upon the lips of craters, flourishing vigorously even there, and tossing ripe cones among the ashes and cinders of Nature's hearths.
John Muir, 1894.

The ponderosa pine rivals the sugar pine; not in sweetness, but in stature and color range. In addition to the simple names yellow pine, silver pine and also big pine, Pinus ponderosa has the more specific names western yellow pine, western red pine, western longleaf pine, western pitch pine and Sierra brownbark pine—as well as less common names such bull pine and blackjack pine. It's a tree of many colors!

Keywords: conifers, Pinaceae, natural history, nomenclature, Sierra Nevada.

References and more to explore
[1] Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex Lawson 1836 [].
[2] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 115 to 107  in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.

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