WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE      SEARCH BY PLANT NAME     TREES      CONTACT US



Pinus ponderosa
Pinus ponderosa variety scopulorum (Ponderosa Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills/montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Dolores River, March 5, 2006.

Ponderosa Pine is a majestic tree and often appears even more majestic because it commonly towers over low-growing Pinyon Pine, Juniper, and Gambelís Oak.  Ponderosas also grow at higher elevations above this transition zone and can be found in pure stands towering over a park-like atmosphere of grasses and shrubs.  In the Four Corners states giant Ponderosas can be 140 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. (The Pacific coast P. ponderosa variety benthamiana grows to over 250 feet tall and 25 feet in circumference.)  The Ponderosa at left is nearly record size for Colorado and it towers over fifteen foot tall leafless, gray Gambel's Oaks just back from the banks of the Dolores River in a thousand foot deep canyon carved by the River.

"Ponderosa" is from the Latin for "heavy, weighty" as in "ponderous", probably referring to the heavy wood.

David Douglas was the first to describe Pinus ponderosa after collecting it (probably in his 1825-1827 North America travels) in the present state of Washington.

Pinus ponderosa
Pinus ponderosa variety scopulorum (Ponderosa Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills/montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, October 24, 2007.

The bark of mature Ponderosa Pines is cinnamon to yellow/orange in a fascinating jig-saw pattern.  When heated by the sun, Ponderosa Pine bark exudes a most pleasant soft vanilla fragrance.

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa variety scopulorum (Ponderosa Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills/montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Bear Creek Pack Trail, May 12, 2009.
Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, October 24, 2007.

Ponderosa bark is art work of color and jig-saw patterns.  Ponderosas often have deep fissures, especially on three-to-six feet in diameter mature trees.  If we stare into one of these deep fissures we see layer upon layer of bark giving the trees great fire protection -- and great beauty.  Bear claw marks, shown in the top photograph at left, penetrate only a few layers of the bark.

Pinus ponderosa
Pinus ponderosa variety scopulorum (Ponderosa Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills/montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 28, 2004.

Ponderosa Pine needles are in bundles of twos or threes and are 5-8 inches long bunched at the end of branches.  The three inch new growing tip in the middle of the photograph shows the beginning of new needles; old needles will yellow and drop off the twig after several years.

The bark of young trees, such as the one pictured at left, is very dark gray with yellow/orange longitudinal furrows. 

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa variety scopulorum (Ponderosa Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Foothills/montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, June 21, 2014; Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 28, 2004; and
Bean Canyon Trail, October 23, 2012.

The first two photographs at left show the very young green female cones and lavender male cones. Both will at least double in size before the males disperse their spores and the females receive them.

Mature Ponderosa seed cones are 3-6 inches long, light tan (fourth photograph) darkening with age (third photograph), and have a very thick prickle at the outer tip of each bract (the thin, long sections).

Each horizontal arrow in the fourth photograph points to an indentation at the base of one bract.  Each indentation sheltered a seed and each seed had a wing that projected upward fitting into the slightly concave surface of the bract.  The third arrow points to the dark line which separated the two seeds and each of their wings. 

Wings are extensions of the ovary.  Such winged seeds are called "samaras" and they are found on a number of other Pines, Maples, Tulip trees, the Tree of Heaven, Elms, Four-Winged Saltbush, and a number of wildflowers.

Over tens of thousands of years, plants have mutated and hybridized, resulting in innumerable physical characteristics and this also applies to seed characteristics: the samara is just one product of eons of evolution. 

Because of its shape, the samara causes seeds to spiral downward (and outward on breezy days).  Seeds from most other plants have no papery wing and they disperse themselves in various other ways: some are so light that the slightest breeze disperses them; some are so heavy that they fall quite near the parent plant on ground that is suitable for their propagation; some (many Sunflowers such as Dandelions) have hairs attached to the seeds and these catch the wind thus dispersing the seeds widely; some are so tasty that animals eat and cache them (some caches sprout new plants); some have tasty coverings which are eaten by animals and then the seeds are defecated; some have barbs which hook onto passing animals and are thusly scattered widely.  There are many ways for plants to propagate successfully.

I am often asked, "Why does a plant have such and such characteristics?"  We should be careful in our phrasing when we discuss characteristics that plants and animals have.  We should not say that the Ponderosa has winged seeds "in order to...."  Plants don't have the ability to will their characteristics.  Over eons of time they have evolved many differing physical characteristics.  If the characteristics are favorable, the plant continues to live for as long as those characteristics suit it for its environment (or until other forces such as fire or human beings destroy it).  Plants and animals do not have characteristics "in order to...."  They have those characteristics because of the random accumulation of changes to their genetic makeup.

Pinus ponderosa, Arceuthobium vaginatum

Pinus ponderosa, Arceuthobium vaginatum

Pinus ponderosa variety scopulorum
(Ponderosa Pine)
Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Arceuthobium vaginatum subspecies cryptopodum (Mistletoe)
Viscaceae (Mistletoe Family)

Foothills/montane. Woodlands. Spring.
North of Durango, May 29, 2007.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, June 18, 2007.

The parasite on this Pinus ponderosa is Arceuthobium vaginatum, common on Pinus ponderosa.  It can appear as a light, scattered infestation or it can be very dense.

Arceuthobium vaginatum was first collected in 1804 by Friederick von Humboldt and Alexander Bonpland and was named Viscum vaginatum by Carl Willdenow in 1806.  It was given its present name by Jan Presl in 1825.

William Weber tells of the parasite's reproduction: "The seeds are explosively shot from the fruits at high speed (27 m/sec) for distances up to 15 m.  They are sticky and adhere to Pine needles.  When the needles become wet from rain the seeds slide down to the branch where they germinate by a penetrating holdfast."

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Pinus ponderosa  

WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE      SEARCH BY PLANT NAME     TREES      CONTACT US