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Ponderosa pine trees

Eastern Washington

Picture of Ponderosa pine - pinus ponderosa
Ponderosa pine

Ponderosa pine tree iconPonderosa pine trees (Pinus ponderosa) grow in the Columbia basin at lower elevations, forming the arid timberline where forest transitions to shrub-steppe and grasslands. It's a stately tree that favors places where the pondering is good, on the border between the refuge of forests and prospect of wide-open spaces. Ponderosa pine extend into the moister, cooler mid-elevation forests and mix with interior Douglas fir, western larch, quaking aspen, and lodgepole pine.

Old-growth ponderosa pine getting cleaned by a nuthatchThis is a hardy, drought tolerant tree having thick , protective bark comprised of stacked plates that sometimes look like puzzle pieces. The deep cracks in old tree bark smell pleasant, like vanilla with a hint of butterscotch or warm cookie. Ponderosa needles are bundled in threes and they are five to ten inches long, forming tufts at branch ends, with three to six inch long pine cones having sharp teeth. Old growth ponderosas grow 150 to 180 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Some people refer to ponderosa pine trees in logging terms as bull pine or yellow pine depending on the quality of its wood.

Ponderosas provide food and shelter for a wide variety of birds at the edge of the shrub-steppe including northern flicker, Lewis's woodpecker and other woodpeckers, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatch, Clark's nutcracker, and Ponderosa pine treesmountain chickadee. Ponderosa pine are also the favorite nesting tree for the colorful neotropical bird, western tanager, which migrate north from Cenral America to breed. Ponderosas make good roosts for turkey vulture, wild turkey and raven, sallying perches for Western bluebird, and nest and hunting platforms for red-tailed hawk, osprey, bald eagle, American kestral, merlin, great horned owl, and various other raptors. Loose, deep-furrowed bark and abandoned nest cavities of dying ponderosas also provide shelter for mouse-eared bats that flip-flap in desert nights hunting mosquitos and moths, and for pallid bats that forage for ground-dwelling insects including beetles. Ponderosas also feed and shelter a variety of insects of course, from pine seed bugs to flathead borer beetles to ants, to butterflies such as pine white and western pine elfin, in turn providing a major food source for various birds and mammals.

Young ponderosas provide winter browse for mule deer to survive tough winters while older stands may get infested with dwarf mistletoe, a plant parasite that is the host plant for the thicket hairstreak and other mistletoe butterflies.

Ponderosas seedlings planted at the edge of open country should be planted from local stock or seeded from local trees to ensure good adaptation and should be shaded from blazing summer sun, caged from deer, and if possible, watered in summer until roots reach deep moisture in a year or two.

Picture of ponderosa pine - pinus ponderosa
Ponderosa pine tree - Pinus ponderosa
growing in a mixed forest at mid-elevation

Sprouting ponderosa pine tree seedling
Ponderosa pine seedling

Lewis' woodpecker in a ponderosa pine tree
Lewis' Woodpecker
perched on a ponderosa branch
candidate for endangered-species listing in Washington State

Red-breasted nuthatch or Sitta canadensis with a ponderosa pine seed
Red-breasted nuthatch
with a ponderosa pine seed

Western bluebird sallying from a ponderosa pine branch
Ponderosa pine tree
foraged by Western bluebird

Pygmy nuthatch extracting seeds from ponderosa pine cones
Old growth ponderosa pine
providing seeds for pygmy nuthatch

Mountain chickadee foraging under ponderosa
Mountain chickadee foraging under ponderosa

Clark's nutcracker eating ponderosa pine seeds
Clark's nutcracker
collecting ponderosa pine seeds

Western dwarf mistletoe, a parasite growing out of a ponderosa pine tree
Ponderosa tree parasite Western dwarf mistletoe
or Arceuthobium campylopodum, a host plant for thicket hairstreak butterfly

Leaf-footed pine seed bugs reduce seed production but don't threaten the health of pine trees
Pine white butterfly

landing on ponderosa pine needles

Leaf-footed pine seed bugs reduce seed production but don't threaten the health of pine trees
Leaf-footed pine seed bugs

reduce seed production but don't otherwise damage pine trees

Flathead borer on ponderosa pine
Flathead borers

Dead ponderosa snag providing bird habitat
Ponderosa pine snag
habitat for mouse-eared and pallid bats, woodpeckers and other birds

Dead ponderosa tree - insect damage
Dead ponderosa pine
bird and insect damage

Ponderosa pine needles browsed by deer
Ponderosa pine needles
used for winter browse by mule deer

Young ponderosa pine tree with bark rubbed off from mule deer buck antlers
Young ponderosa
bark rubbed by mule deer buck antlers

Forest fire in ponderosa pine trees
Forest fire in ponderosa pine trees