Tree Profiles Ponderosa Pine

Tree Profiles:  Ponderosa Pine

The Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa P. & C. Lawson) is known by a variety of names.  Black Jack, Sierra Brown Bark Pine, Silver Pine, Western Pitch Pine, Western Red Pine and Yosemite Pine are a few of these names.  No matter what you choose to call it, the Ponderosa Pine is a versatile tree that can be used for ornamental purposes as well as ethnobotanic, and erosion control among other uses.

The Ponderosa Pine is perfect for erosion control since it can rapidly grow and secure its roots firmly in the ground in almost every soil type available.  It can be used as a windbreaker in this case to allow regrowth in the surrounding forest.  To add further life to the forest this pine can help feed much of the wildlife that call themselves neighbors.  Several birds including finches, mourning doves, and red-winged blackbirds call the Ponderosa home.  Chipmunks and squirrels will consume the seeds and the blue and spruce grouse use the pine needles for nests.  Animals such as porcupines and rodents use the bark for nests.  Many animals use the tree for cover, living and nesting.

The ethnobotanic properties of the Ponderosa Pine have been used by Native Americans and First Peoples since their ancient times.  This ever-giving tree can be the source of food, medicine, construction materials and ceremonial rites according to the history of these peoples.  The pine needles have been used to reduce coughs and fevers while the pitch has been used as ointments for sores, scabs, backaches and rheumatism, and earaches.  If the baby has trouble falling asleep try some of the pitch as it can be used as a sleeping agent for infants.  The boughs are also quite useful.  They can aid muscular pain when used within a sweat lodge, help internal hemorrhaging and for different treatments for children.  The roots were mostly used for construction materials.  Fence posts and boards were mostly made while single logs became canoes.  Nearly every portion of the Ponderosa can be used for food – even the pitch and cones.

The Ponderosa Pine is still used for construction and is considered by many, including the United States Department of Agriculture, to be “one of the most important timber species in the western United States.” (1) Only Douglas Fir and Hem-Fir rank higher within the timber industry in the USA.  Oregon is the largest supplier of Ponderosa lumber and nearly 1.5 billion feet of board are produced each year.  This lumber in turn is largely used for building construction in the U.S. and exported to China and Japan as well.

It’s uniform size is derived from the seasoning of the Ponderosa Pine when it is dried prior to surfacing.  This is done in a controlled environment in the dry kilns or as they dry naturally as the boards are stacked.  Sometimes it may seem as if they lumber is green or blue stained and this occurs when the temperature becomes too warm as it is seasoned.  Most often you will see pine as a single species product although ever so often you will see it mixed with another tree species.  There are a multitude of grades available from the milled Ponderosa Pine product: appearance grades, structural grades, and factory grades.  The structural grades are the 2x4s and 2x6s that most likely will become decks or something similar.  Factory (Shop) grades are used for manufacturing,

Ponderosa Pine is not only found in Oregon but also Washington, California, and on eastward from the west coat to Black Hills, South Dakota.  Canada and Mexico also raise this tree.  This is a sturdy pine that can live nearly 200 years before they succumb to fire, insect infestation or dry rot.  Heights of 100-600 feet are reached while the trunk is a good 2-4 feet in diameter.  Like most living things the lifespan is determinate upon altitude, the type of soil it is planted in, temperature and rainfall.  Part of why these live so long is also due to the fact that they are never clear-cut but rather selectively harvested.  This is a friendlier way to cut them down as it allows for re-seeing and further maturity. The bark goes through a few different colorings as the tree matures:  dark brown to black and then cinnamon brown to orange yellow.  Seedlings are grown from the seeds found in the pineapple shaped pinecones.  Perfect sites allow for seedling maturity to occur within just a couple of years but the perfect timeframe for the harsher climes only happens once every 20-25 years.

The beautiful Ponderosa Pine will be around for centuries so that we may share in its wonder.  When freshly cut the species retains its odor to make you feel like you are in the forest itself.  Places outside the natural habitat include borders on forest highways and planted in yards.  Several campsites use this tree to provide shade.  Grow your own from seeds of the cone and enjoy it for your lifetime!