The Gymnosperm Database


Mature tree near Sonora Pass, CA [C.J. Earle, 2008.06.30].


View toward Laguna Hanson from a fire tower a few kilometers north, showing continuous Jeffrey pine forest with secondary oak (Quercus sp.) and P. quadrifolia [C.J. Earle, 2001.04.20].


Cone detail, Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Old-growth tree in Long Valley on Mt. San Jacinto, California [C.J. Earle, 2002.03].


Cones, tree on Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Jeffrey pine, 140.7 cm dbh, at the first junction north of the Saddle, Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


Bark on the above tree [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.10].


P. jeffreyi on a serpentine barren in northern California. It is an effective competitor on these nutrient-poor soils [C.J. Earle, 2007.02.03, WP3].


Jeffrey-Ponderosa pine natural hybrid at Alandale Station, Mt. San Jacinto, CA [C.J. Earle, 2004.04.09].


Distribution map (Critchfield and Little 1966).


Sapling growing at the base of a mature tree, Kings Canyon National Park, CA [C.J. Earle, 2008.07.01].


Postfire regeneration seedling showing primary foliage; Plumas National Forest, CA [C.J. Earle, 2010.10.20].


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Conservation status

Pinus jeffreyi

Greville et Balfour in A. Murray 1853

Common names

Jeffrey, bull, western black, Truckee or sapwood pine (Peattie 1950).

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Pinus deflexa Torrey 1859; P. jeffreyi var. deflexa (Torrey) Lemmon 1888; P. ponderosa var. jeffreyi (Balfour) Vasey 1876; P. ponderosa ssp. jeffreyi (Balfour) Murray 1982; P. jeffreyi var. baja-californica Silba 1990 (Farjon and Styles 1997).

Natural hybrids occur where its range overlaps with that of Pinus coulteri, such as in the Laguna, Jan Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains of California, producing cones with intermediate characteristics. Hybrids with P. ponderosa also occur where the species' ranges overlap, and are hard to identify due to the two species' generally similar appearances (Lanner 1999).


Trees 24-39(61) m tall, diameter 60-120(250) cm diameter, usually straight; crown conic to rounded. Bark yellow-brown to cinnamon, thick, deeply furrowed and cross-checked, forming large irregular scaly plates, with odor of lemon and vanilla during the growing season. Branches spreading-ascending; twigs stout (to 2 cm thick), purple-brown, often glaucous, aging rough. Buds ovoid, tan to pale red-brown, 2-3 cm, not resinous; scale margins conspicuously fringed. Needles 3 per fascicle, spreading-ascending, persisting (2)4-6(7) years, 12-22(25) cm × ca. 1.5-2 mm, slightly twisted, gray- to yellow-green, all surfaces with fine stomatal lines, margins finely serrulate, apex acute to acuminate; sheath (1)1.5-2.5(3) cm, base persistent. Staminate cones lance-cylindric, 20-35 mm, yellow to yellow- or purple-brown or yellow. Ovulate cones maturing in 2 years, shedding seeds and falling soon thereafter, nearly terminal, spreading, slightly asymmetric at base, ovoid-conic before opening, cylindro-ovoid when open, (10)15-30 cm, light red-brown, nearly sessile or on stalks to 0.5 cm, abaxial surface of scales not darker than or sharply contrasting in color with adaxial surface, scales in low spirals (as compared to Pinus ponderosa) of 8 or more per row as viewed from side, those of cones just prior to and after cone fall not so spreading and deflexed, thus not so much separated from adjacent scales; apophyses slightly thickened and raised, not keeled; umbo central, slightly raised, with short, slender, reflexed prickle. Seeds ellipsoid-obovoid; body ca. 1 cm, brown or gray-brown, mottled darker; wing to 2.5 cm. 2n=24 (Little 1980, Kral 1993).

Distribution and Ecology

US: SW Oregon, S through the Klamath Mtns. and Sierra Nevada of California and far W Nevada into Mexico: N Baja California Norte, at (1000)2000-3100 m on dry mountain slopes (Little 1980, Kral 1993). Hardy to Zone 8 (cold hardiness limit between -12.1°C and -6.7°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001). See also Thompson et al. (1999). It is characteristic species of serpentine and other nutrient-poor soils, environments in which it grows slowly but outcompetes other trees.

Distribution data from USGS (1999).

Big tree

A tree in the Morris Meadows, Trinity Alps, California, was discovered in December 2010 and measured at 245 cm dbh and 63.09 m tall. It actual height is probably somewhat greater; it was snowing at the time, which complicates laser measurements (Michael Taylor email 2010.12.19). The tree has an estimated wood volume (including the big reiteration shown in the photo) of 118.16 cubic meters. Michael reports that the area likely has larger and taller trees, but it's 9 miles in from the road and closed by snow until spring.

The second largest known tree is "Smoky Jack" on the Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park, California, 56.7 m tall and 227 cm dbh with a wood volume of 116 m3. An even larger tree died in 2002-2003 from bark beetle attack: the "Eureka Valley Giant" was 58.5 m tall and 247 cm dbh with a wood volume of 129 m3 (Van Pelt 2001, Van Pelt pers comm. 2003.12). With the death of this tree, Pinus ponderosa assumed the title of the largest tree in subgenus Pinus.

Another giant tree, the "Wildmad Giant," was discovered in 2009 by Michael Taylor in the Trinity Mountains; this tree measures 68.9 m tall and 225 cm dbh (Michael Taylor email 2009.08.26). The odd thing is that its identity as a Jeffrey pine has not been confirmed. Its cones strongly resemble Pinus washoensis (which has not been reported in the area and is not known to grow nearly so large) and in other respects it resembles Pinus ponderosa subsp. benthamiana. It may turn out to be a hybrid.


A tree-ring chronology was collected in 1964 at Tioga Pass, California (2591 m elevation, 37° 57'N, 119° 9' W) by C.W. Ferguson and M.L. Parker. Tree 048052 had a record of 813 rings. I don't know if this tree was alive at the time, but likely it was (NCDC 2006).


Brubaker and Graumlich have developed a number of chronologies from the Siskyou area, and Holmes et al. (1986) have published several chronologies from the Sierra Nevada. Jeffrey pine tree-ring data have been used in studies of climate variability, fire history, paleoseismology, air pollution (ozone), and riparian ecosystem change.



The photographs show some of the fine stands in the Sierra Juárez of Baja, but I think the Sierra San Pedro Martír stands are the most memorable. An extraordinarily extensive old-growth forest cloaks the upper elevations (above about 2000 m) of this Mexican National Park, with extensive open stands of Jeffrey and sugar (P. lambertiana) pine interspersed with white fir (Abies concolor). Locally the forest opens out into parks fringed by lodgepole pine (P. contorta), and rocky, exposed outcrops have specimens of the endemic Cupressus montana. The park is readily accessed from the west by a good gravel road that leaves the Transpeninsular Highway 140 km S of Ensenada and services an astronomical observatory situated near the summit of the Sierra. In California, the mixed conifer stands of Yosemite National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks typically include a significant element of Jeffrey pine.


Named for its discoverer, John Jeffrey, a 19th century Scots botanist who traveled in Oregon and California and who found the tree in the Shasta Valley of California (Little 1980). See the Remarks section of P. balfouriana (which he also discovered) for some of Jeffrey's story.

"Pinus jeffreyi has a form very similar to that of P. ponderosa, but it is a smaller species when compared with sympatric populations of the latter. It is cut and sold under the same name as P. ponderosa, but the sweetish odor of the fresh-cut wood contrasts sharply with the turpentine odor of ponderosa pine. The resin chemistry of the two species is significantly different" (Kral 1993). The sap contains heptane, a highly flammable hydrocarbon that was at one point used in developing the octane scale for grading gasolines (Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976).

Ponderosa pines (P. ponderosa) were used for turpentine extraction in late 19th century California. In the absence of cones, the two species resemble each other rather closely and occur in mixed stands. Occasionally workers would try to distill turpentine from Jeffrey rather than ponderosa sap, with explosive and sometimes tragic consequences (Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976).

Jeffrey has one of the heaviest seeds found among pines whose seeds are normally dispersed by wind (rather than by birds); however, its seeds can be carried and cached by the yellow pine chipmunk, Tamias amoenus, and thus it is commonly a mammal-dispersed pine (Johnston 1994).

Jeffrey pines in California have been found to be quite sensitive to air pollution, and ozone in particular causes needle death and defoliation. See the additional sources below for more information.

This species is one of the primary hosts for the dwarf mistletoe Arceuthobium campylopodum (Hawksworth and Wiens 1996).


Murray, A. 1853. Botanical Expedition to Oregon. No. 8. Edinburgh.

Johnston, Verna R. 1994. California Forests and Woodlands. University of California Press. Los Angeles.

[NCDC 2006] Data accessed at the National Climatic Data Center World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Tree-Ring Data Search Page, 2006.09.11. URL:

See also

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

Burns and Honkala 1990.

Elias 1987.

FEIS database.

Haller, John R. 1959. Factors affecting the distribution of ponderosa and Jeffrey pines in California. Madrono 15:65-71.

Haller, John R. 1962. Variation and hybridization in ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. Univ. of CA Pub. in Bot. 34:123-166.

Lanner 1999.

Miller, P.R. 1992. Mixed conifer forests of the San Bernardino Mountains, California. Ecological Studies: Analysis and Synthesis 97:461-497. [Discusses ozone damage]

Peterson, D.L. and M.J. Arbaugh. 1992. Mixed conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada. Ecological Studies: Analysis and Synthesis 97:433-459. [Discusses ozone damage]

Salardino, David H. and John J. Carroll. 1998. Correlation between ozone exposure and visible foliar injury in Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pines. Atmospheric Environment 32:3001-3010.

Schoenherr, Allan A. 1992. A Natural History of California. University of California Press. Los Angeles.

Vasek, Frank C. 1978. Jeffrey pine and vegetation of the southern Modoc National Forest. Madroño 25:9-30.

The Ecological Role of Fire in Sierran Conifer Forests.

Last Modified 2017-12-29