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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pinus ponderosa - Ponderosa Pine

The Ponderosa pine is one of my favorite conifers. It is native to parts of SC county as well as the Sierras and into the eastern portions of  the PNW.  Tall columnar shape when older, trunks void of branches for about a third of the trunk showing off the beautiful bark. Lateral branches short, mostly perpendicular to the trunk. As would be expected there are variations of this species as some are found in the Sand Hills area and others at 2000 feet elevation of the inland pacific northwest. Growth rate is medium and has been noted to grow several feet per year when young. The ponderosa pine is also know as bull pine, blackjack pine and the western yellow pine.

Leaves are needle like, in bundles of 3 (there is a botanical variety with 2 or 3 needles P. ponderosa scopulorum) 6-8" long, light to medium green color and very sharp pointed. Needles tend to be restricted to the ends of the branches as they only last 3 years. They are also somewhat droopy on the branch.

Reproductive structures are separate on the trees, males generally dark reddish purple (or can be yellow) before opening and releasing massive amounts of yellow pollen. Generally borne on the lower branches.

Females are red, and borne higher up in the tree.

Immature cones vary in color with subspecies, and can be black to purple as seen in this image from eastern washington to green colored.  All the cones turn dark reddish brown as they mature. They are about 4" long, oblong or ovate shaped, with very sharp prickles on the ends of the scales that reflex backwards (outward, unlike the Jeffery Pine). 

Mature cone. Note the tips of the scales pointing outward.

The cones leave behind a row a scales on branches when they fall. The are not the only ones that do that, its just a helpful characteristic.

Stems are very stout, greenish-brown. 

Trunks with mature bark is one of the most beautiful barks I know. If you look closely the bark bits look like jigsaw puzzle pieces. But it takes a long time to develop this sort of trunk. Orange in color, with black crevices. 

Misidentification: Always look at the needle number first, these have 3.
Jeffery pine for one,
Other 3 needle pines in our area:
P. attenuata, Knobcone Pine is native to the northern county and can be seen in UCSC wild areas. Cones are very different, in large clusters on the main stems and held for years.
P. canariensis, much longer softer needles, longer cones, much fuller habit but more or less the same overall shape but way full.
P. coulteri, longer bluer leaves, more stiff and dont seem to droop on the stems, not as restricted to the ends of the branches as they last 3-4 years. Much broader habit. There are some around.
P. jefferyi, the cones are different in that the prickle on the scale is curved inward and will not stick you and you will not likely see one in SC.
P. radiata, covered earlier, dark green leaves, shorter and softer.

Location: Several nice places,
From the road you can see them on:
Highway 17 between Granite Creek Rd and Mt Herman Exits on the north side,
Highway 1 to the east, lining the area below Cabrillo College
Graham Hill Rd just past Quarry Rd on your way to Ben Lomond on the right is a beautiful one.
Mt Herman Rd as it leaves Scotts Valley area and heads into the Sand Hills area.
Scotts Valley has a great collection, there is a nice big one on the corner of SV Drive and Bean Creek Rd.

In town, you can see one that was supposed to be a P. pinea so its planted with other Italian Stone pines, on Mar Vista Dr in Soquel outside the Seacliff Adult mobile homes on your left.

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