January Tree of the Month -- Ponderosa Pine

Around town and throughout Klickitat County the tall, sentinel Ponderosa pines, Pinus ponderosa, keep watch over our busy community. The Ponderosa pine generally grows at elevations between sea level and 3,000 m, across a wide distribution from southern British Columbia through Washington, Oregon, and California, and east to the western portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Some of the most common names are western yellow pine, yellow pine, bull pine, blackjack pine, and ponderosa pine, which has become the most acceptable. Although classified as a hard pine, its wood is quite soft and is one of the most important commercial pine species in the U.S. as its wood is used for millwork, interior finish, and lumber.

The 5”-10” long Ponderosa pine needles are the longest of the pine species growing in Washington and grow in clusters of three needles. The cones are 3 to 6 inches long, egg-shaped, yellow-brown and have a sharp point on each scale. Squirrels, chipmunks and many kinds of birds eat the seeds. Some cache the seeds, which facilitates the propagation of more pine trees. The trees are also important to various birds for cover, roosting and nesting sites.

Ponderosa pines grow best on moist well-drained soils, but are extremely drought resistant, and will persist in otherwise non-forest areas. The ability to tolerate harsh conditions, including drought, heat, cold and surface fire, allows ponderosa pine to occupy most habitats. Its competitive ability is limited primarily by its low relative shade tolerance. Low-intensity surface fires control competitive species like scrub oak and shade-tolerant conifers. Ponderosa pine is resistant to fire due to its thick bark while the seedlings can also survive low-intensity burns.

Ponderosa pine can grow to be a very large tree, 150 to 180 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet in diameter and over 300 years old on better sites. As the Ponderosa pine matures in its first century, the bark is dark brown to nearly black and begins to break up into thick, vertical fissures. During the second century, the outer layers of the bark ridges begin to flake off, revealing the reddish brown color characteristic of mature trees. As the tree ages, the outermost bark continues to flake off, causing the colorful plates of outer bark to get wider, while the width of the dark fissures remain constant. By the third century, the bark plates have become substantially wider than the fissures, a sign of old age. How old do you think the mature Ponderosa pines you see around town might be? Take a good look at the bark!

Looking for a low-cost source for Ponderosa pine for your property? Underwood Conservation District (UCD), one of 45 locally-led, non-regulatory conservation districts in Washington state, serves local landowners in understanding and improving natural resources with advice, hands-on assistance, and cost-share programs.

Their annual Native Plant Sale is currently accepting orders for bare root tree and shrub seedlings. Online orders are being accepted through February 28, 2019, with order pickup at Tree-Fest on March 16.

For more information or to place an order, visit www.ucdwa.org/) and click on “Shop Native Plants” or call the conservation district office at 509-493-1936.

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