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Mature tree near Happy Camp, California [C.J. Earle, 2009.07.12].


Bark of the above tree, 85 cm dbh [C.J. Earle, 2009.07.12].


Twig and foliar unit on a sapling [C.J. Earle, 2009.07.12].


The tree at Big Pine Campground in Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon [C.J. Earle, 2009.07.12]. Measured by Michael Taylor at 77.1 m tall and 167.4 cm dbh.


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Conservation status
(not evaluated)

Pinus ponderosa subsp. benthamiana

Silba 2009

Common names

Ponderosa pine (Kral 1993), Pacific race ponderosa.

Taxonomic notes

Syn.: Pinus benthamiana Hartweg 1847; Pinus ponderosa Douglas var. pacifica Haller 2011.

This subspecies is locally sympatric with and occasionally hybridizes with Pinus jeffreyi, but hybrids are rare and in areas of sympatry it usually occurs at lower elevations than P. jeffreyi (Kral 1993).


Trees to 72 m tall and 250 cm dbh. Twigs red-brown, not glaucous. Buds very resinous. Leaves 3 per fascicle, 12-25(-30) cm × (1.2-)1.5-2 mm. Pollen cones red. Seed cones 8-15 cm, symmetric; apophyses of fertile scales moderately raised; umbo low-pyramidal, tapering acuminately to short broad-based, strongly outcurved prickle. Seed body 6-9 mm with a 15-25 mm wing (Kral 1993, F. Callahan email 2011.08.19).

Distribution and Ecology

USA: Oregon west of the Cascade crest; California, particularly in the Sierra Nevada but also in a few areas in the Coast Ranges; south nearly to the Mexican border (M.P. Frankis, pers. comm. 1998.12). Habitat montane, dry, open forests at 0-2300 m (Kral 1993).

See Pinus ponderosa for an interactive distribution map.

Big tree

For several years, this species hosted both the largest and tallest specimens of Pinus (that title is usually held by Pinus lambertiana). The largest volume, 152.9 m3, is found in a tree discovered in 2014 in Eldorado National Forest, California (Michael Taylor e-mail 2014.08.14). The tallest tree occurs in the Myers Creek drainage of Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon; discovered on 2011.01.03 by Michael Taylor and Mario Vaden, it has a laser-determined height of 81.69 meters. Another, nearby tree is 81.67 meters tall. Other notable trees include:

As of late 2015, the list of the tallest pines in the world is pretty evenly shared by Pacific ponderosas and sugar pines, with most trees in the Siskiyou National Forest or Yosemite National Park. For unknown reasons that probably include factors such as negligible soil water deficits and low wind loading, these sites are evidently the best place in the world for growing tall pines. Michael Taylor has provided the following list of all pines known to be over 75 m tall (email 2012.02.29 and 2012.10.07, with subsequent updates):

Height range (m)No. of treesSpeciesLocation
82-831P. lambertianaYosemite National Park
81-822P. ponderosaSiskiyou National Forest
80-811P. lambertianaYosemite National Park
79-802P. ponderosaSiskiyou NF
79-801P. lambertianaYosemite NP
78-794P. ponderosaSiskiyou NF
78-792P. lambertianaYosemite NP
77-782P. ponderosaSiskiyou NF, Yosemite NP
77-783P. lambertianaUmpqua NF, Yosemite NP, Calaveras Big Trees State Park
76-775P. ponderosaSiskiyou NF, Yosemite NP
76-771P. lambertianaYosemite NP
75-763P. ponderosaSiskiyou NF
75-763P. lambertianaCalaveras Big Trees SP, Umpqua NF, Kings Canyon NP




A valuable timber tree, the harvest of which far exceeds regrowth because of high timber value and multiple uses of the wood (Kral 1993).


Since the species is so common within its range, only a few choice locales can be mentioned here. It can be seen at low montane elevations in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, in Yosemite National Park, and in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, all in California. The Calaveras forests are particularly noteworthy because a prescribed fire program has been implemented in the park. Consequently, the stands include examples of open pine forest understory with pine seedling regeneration. Such a sight has not been seen in many American ponderosa stands this past century, due to widespread fire suppression that seems to have doomed many of our finest ponderosa forests to replacement by more shade-tolerant conifers such as Abies grandis.


It is the largest and stateliest yellow pine in North America (Kral 1993).

The pine forests of California were eloquently described by John Muir (1894).


Haller and Vivrette. 2011. Ponderosa pine revisited. Aliso 29(1):53-57.

Silba, J. 2009. Journal of the International Conifer Preservation Society 16(1): 30.

See also

Arno and Gyer (1973).

Hickman (1993).

The Ecological Role of Fire in Sierran Conifer Forests.

Last Modified 2015-10-13