The Gymnosperm Database


Tree on summit of Sonora Pass [C.J. Earle, 2008.06.29].


A pair of old trees on Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Small trees of P. contorta ssp. murrayana and Juniperus occidentalis var. australis at Olmstead Point, Yosemite [C.J. Earle, 2008.06.30].


Sapling above Wellman Cienega on Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Cones and foliage on a tree about 50 feet below the summit of Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Cone about 4 cm long, on a tree on Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Cone about 6 cm long, on Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Lodgepole and Jeffrey pine parkland below Wellman Divide on Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


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Conservation status

Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana

(Balfour) Engelmann 1880

Common names

Sierra lodgepole pine (Kral 1993), tamarack pine, tamrac pine.

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Pinus murrayana Balfour 1853; P.contorta var. murrayana (Balfour) Engelmann 1880 [in Watson, Bot. Calif. 2: 126]; P. bourcieri Carrière; P. tamrac A Murray (Critchfield 1957).


Trees to 36 m tall and 90 cm dbh, straight, little tapering; crown mostly conic at maturity. Bark scaly, not evidently furrowed, orange- to purple-brown. Branches spreading, ascending at tips. Leaves 5-8 cm × 1-2 mm, yellow-green, apex acute. Seed cones maturing in 14-18 months, shedding seeds and falling soon thereafter, 3-6 cm long, nearly symmetric, buff-brown (unlike the darker orange-brown of the other ssp.), mostly spreading, rarely in whorls, more often paired or solitary, scales thin, flexible; mid and lower apophyses mostly shallowly domed; umbo with a slender, fragile 2-4 mm spine (Kral 1993, M.P. Frankis e-mail 1999.02.28). Burns and Honkala (1990) state that compared to the other subspecies, murrayana has wider needles, substantially larger seeds, flatter apophyses, little or no serotiny, and seedlings with more cotyledons.

Distribution and Ecology

In the Sierra Nevada, Cascade and Klamath Mts. of: USA: Washington, Oregon, California; Mexico: Baja California Norte. Found in montane forests at 400-3500 m (Critchfield 1957, Wheeler and Guries 1982). USDA hardiness zone 7. Adapted to tolerate relatively frequent, low to moderate intensity fire (Burns and Honkala 1990).

Big tree

Height 32 m, dbh 196 cm, crown spread 20 m; also, height 36 m, dbh 185 cm, crown spread 17 m; both located in Stanislaus National Forest, CA (American Forests 1996).


A tree-ring chronology covering 471 years, presumably based on living tree material, was collected in 1984 in Yosemite Park, California (3000 m elev.; 37° 48'N, 119° 15' W) by K. Briffa and F.H. Schweingruber (NOAA 1999).




A reasonably common and distinctive tree throughout its range. The most memorable stands that I have seen are probably those on the southern approaches to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto, where trees of exceptional size and age can be found. Some of the most pleasingly contorted specimens I have seen are in the vicinity of Olmstead Point in Yosemite National Park, with more fine trees found scattered on the open granite throughout the Yosemite backcountry. At the appropriate elevations it is also easily seen along the Sonora Pass road and along the Generals Highway in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks.



American Forests 1996. The 1996-1997 National Register of Big Trees. Washington, DC: American Forests. This is a dated citation; the big tree register is now available online.

Critchfield, W. B. 1957. Geographic variation in Pinus contorta. Maria Moors Cabot Foundation (Harvard) Publ. 3.

Engelmann, G. E. 1880. Revision of the genus Pinus, and description of Pinus elliottii. Transactions of the Academy of Science of Saint Louis 4:161-190 (p. 177, 181). Available from Google Books, accessed 2011.05.20).

NOAA Paleoclimatology Program Tree-Ring Data Search Page, 1999.02.24. URL:

Wheeler, N. C. and R. P. Guries. 1982. Population structure, genic diversity, and morphological variation in Pinus contorta Dougl. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 12: 595-606.

See also

Arno, Stephen F. and Jane Gyer. 1973. Discovering Sierra trees. Yosemite Natural History Association. 89pp.

Farjon and Styles (1997).

Hickman (1993).

Lanner (1999).

FEIS database.

Last Modified 2017-12-29