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Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society

Focusing on native plants and conservation in North Idaho

Ponderosa Pine
  Profile by Wendy Aeschliman

Common Name(s): Ponderosa Pine, Yellow Pine, Bull Pine

Scientific Name: Pinus ponderosa  The name ponderosa was given to it by David Douglas in recognition of the great size of the tree.

Plant Symbol: Pipo

General Info: Large conifer to 43 m (140 ft) tall; straight trunk, with some self pruning of lower branches as tree matures.  Symmetrical bole.  Mature trees have flattened open top and many stout branches.  Younger trees are usually conical.

Native/ Non-native:  Native.

Ecology:  Forms open forests in hotter and drier areas such as southern exposures.

Range:  Extends from southwestern Canada into Mexico, and from the plains states of Nebraska and Oklahoma to the Pacific Coast.

Bark: Vigorous young trees have brownish -black bark.  Turns cinnamon or orange as tree matures and trunk diameter slows.  Deep, dark furrows in older trees, and puzzle shaped plates that easily flake off.  Fissures in older trees often smell like vanilla or butterscotch, so if you see people smelling the trunk there's good reason!

Leaves: Needles in bunches of 3, sometimes 2.  Flexible and slender, yellowish-green, 12 to 20 cm (5 to 8 in) long.

Cones: Ovate, 8 to 15 cm (3 to 6 in) long. Borne in groups of 1-3. Clustered at branch tips.  Cone scales have firm, prickly tip.  Ripen Aug-Sept with shedding of seeds Sept-Jan.

Seeds:  quite small 6-8 mm (~1/4 in) long with large wing 2.5 cm (1 in).  Two to a scale.

Enemies: Insects: western and mountain pine beetle; various diseases.


  • Ponderosa pines are stately trees with great aesthetic appeal, forming park-like open stands. 

  • Very tolerant to high temperatures and drought.

  • Mature trees very fire-resistant.

Resources/ Links:

Field Guide to Forest Plants of Northern Idaho (Patterson, Neiman, Tonn), 1985 USDA – Forest Service

Plants of Southern Interior British Colombia and the Inland Northwest (Parish, Coupe, Lloyd), 1996

Above:  Ponderosa Pine

Below:  Puzzle-shaped flake of bark from mature Ponderosa Pine


Below:  Dark furrows in the bark of a mature Ponderosa Pine.  Flakes breaking off from the bark.


Needles in bunches of three...


Below: Smelling Ponderosa Bark...


Photos by Wendy Aeschliman