A conifer tree that grows one to two main trunks with a narrow to round canopy. Ponderosas mature at 90′ to 180′ and the trunk usually lacks limbs until the top third of the tree. It is found from California north into Canada and from the Canadian Rockies into Mexico. The bark is made up of thick plates that are fire resistant and brown to rusty orange; a truly beautiful tree. The needles are 5-10″ long and in bundles of two and three. The cones are 3-5″ long by 2-3″ wide and each scale on the cone terminates with a sharp point. In urban areas, they are often easily confused with Austrian Pines, which are non-native to Colorado. The quick test to differentiate is in the needles and cones. Needles of Austrian pines never have bundles of three, only two to a set. The scales that make up the cones may look very similar, but they have blunt tips in the Austrian where they are quite pointed and sharp in the Ponderosa. The bark smells of vanilla extract on live trees.
Structurally, these trees tend to grow co-dominant competing leaders which leads to major crotch failures as they mature. This is often noticeable in the woods where large mature trees have split. Ponderosas prefer a well drained soil. They can lose root mass in a hurry if over watered, planted in a high water table or poorly drained soil.
The major disease that effects Ponderosa is vectored (introduced) through bark beetles carrying the blue stain fungus. This fungus rapidly clogs up the phloem in the tree’s vascular system and cuts off nutrient and water flow within the tree system. It is usually fatal once introduced. Dwarf Mistletoe is another major problem. It is a parasitic plant that uses a root-like system to tap into the host tree’s vascular system to feed itself. It spreads by this “root” system within host plants and also by shooting its sticky seeds via the special pressurized system it has developed.
The largest threat to Ponderosa pines is the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB). IPS or Engraver beetles are also a problem for these trees. They are also susceptible to pine bud-worm which eats the succulent new growth in the spring time. If left untreated for several seasons it can be detrimental to the tree.
There are several natural varieties.
History and Use
Native Americans used these trees in medicine, ceremony, building, insulating, and even made dug out canoes with the trunks. From the pitch (sap) to the needles to the timber these trees have given an incredible support to both humans and wildlife for many millennium. Today it is the third most harvested timber in America and the second most exported timber.