The Gymnosperm Database


Mature ponderosa (subsp. ponderosa) growing in a selectively logged area, Big Hole, Oregon [C.J. Earle, 1998.04.17].


Bark, about 30 cm across, on a specimen of subsp. ponderosa [C.J. Earle].


Actively elongating shoot and start-of-second-summer cone on P. ponderosa subsp. ponderosa [C.J. Earle, 2002.05.25].


Stand of old-growth P. ponderosa near Whitney, Oregon, ca. 1900 [J.W. Cowden] (courtesy Gary Dielman, Baker City library).


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Conservation status

Pinus ponderosa

Common names

Ponderosa pine; Washoe pine [see taxonomic notes], 'North Plateau' ponderosa pine.

Taxonomic notes

Syn: P. washoensis Mason & Stockwell 1945, P. ponderosa subsp. washoensis (Mason & Stockwell) E. Murray 1982; P. ponderosa var. ponderosa. Populations from west of the Cascade crest that have been assigned to var. ponderosa are here treated under subsp. benthamiana.

The identification of typical P. ponderosa with P. washoensis is not widely accepted, and see also my page for P. washoensis, which presents a rationale for discussing the "species" even though I think it does not warrant species rank, but should be reclassified, probably as a variant of P. ponderosa subsp. ponderosa. Some recent DNA work by Patten and Brunsfeld (2002) represents independent confirmation that washoensis belongs in the Ponderosa group, and it is here treated in that way.


Trees to 60 m tall and 2.5 m dbh, straight; crown pyramidal. Bark yellow-brown to reddish, fissured, plates scaly. Branches spreading-ascending; twigs stout, orangish, aging gray, rough. Twigs commonly red-brown, not glaucous. Buds ovoid, red-brown, 1.5-2 cm, variably resinous. Leaves (2)3 per fascicle, spreading-ascending, persisting 4-6 years, 10-25 cm × (1.2-)1.5-2 mm. Pollen cones cylindric, 10-20 mm, mostly red. Seed cones maturing in 2 years, shedding seeds soon thereafter, not persistent, spreading, slightly asymmetric, ovoid-conic before opening, 7-15 cm, tan or pale red-brown, sessile; apophyses of fertile scales moderately raised; umbo low-pyramidal, tapering acuminately to short broad-based prickle. Seed ellipsoid, body 6-9 mm; wing 15-25 mm. 2n=24 (Kral 1993).

Distribution and Ecology

Canada: British Columbia; USA: Washington, Oregon, NW Nevada and NE California east of the Cascade crest (at Fort Lewis, Washington, it grows west of the Cascade Mountains due to edaphic drought conditions created by an extremely porous glacial outwash substrate). Habitat montane, dry, open forests at 0-2300 m (Kral 1993).

See Pinus ponderosa for an interactive distribution map.

Big tree

Clearly the largest tree is the LaPine Giant, which can be seen at LaPine State Recreation Area in LaPine, Oregon. It has a stem volume of 114 m3, dbh 277 cm, height 50.6 meters. This giant is well-known and has been celebrated for many years. Another giant, and the largest in Washington, is the Trout Lake Pine in Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Trout Lake, Washington. It is marked on the Forest Service map. It has a stem volume of 92 m3, dbh 213 cm, height 64.9 meters (Van Pelt 2000). The tallest tree known, and the largest ponderosa in Idaho, is 69.5 m tall and 184 cm dbh. It grows in Boise County (Robert Van Pelt e-mail 2004.02.04).


A ring-counted age from a good core is reported by Robert Van Pelt (pers. comm. 2007.10.18) for a tree growing on Meek's Table east of Chinook Pass, Washington. That core had 876 rings. Based on core height and distance from pith, the tree was estimated to be 907 years old.



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. In Oregon, U.S. Highway 395 passes through many fine stands within Malheur National Forest. Fine old-growth stands may also be seen along the Gotchen Creek Trail #40 and Cold Springs Trail #72 in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA and at campgrounds along the Chewack River, Okanogan National Forest, WA. Regrettably, all of these stands are in areas subject to long-term fire suppression and thus constitute anthropogenically disturbed stands.

Some phenomenal stands can be found in the vicinity of Meeks Table, east of Chinook Pass, WA, shown below. These stands were neglected for many years, but recently (as of 2007) forest managers have begun cutting out the invasive Abies grandis regeneration, thinning the stands, and instituting a prescribed fire regime. This offers hope than in a decade or so these forests will begin to resemble the extensive, open stands of large trees that were recorded by early travelers in the area.

View Larger Map


Don Lieuallen, near Pendleton, Oregon, reports (email 2005.11.12) that "Small trees that I cut down years ago with a lopper (oversized pruner tool) have regrown from their stumps. I cut as close to the ground as possible but some manage to regrow. This does not happen with trees which have attained some maturity before they are cut down for thinning." This is the only report I have found of stump sprouting in Pinus ponderosa.

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


Patten, A.M. and S.J. Brunsfeld. 2002. Evidence of a novel lineage within the Ponderosae. Madroño 49(3):189-192. ABSTRACT: Phylogenetic analysis of the DNA of a putative portion of the nuclear NADH-specific nitrate reductase gene revealed the existence of a Pinus jeffreyi lineage that gave rise to P. washoensis and the North Plateau race of P. ponderosa var. ponderosa. These data are consistent with Lauria's (1991) hypotheses that the North Plateau race is genetically distinct from the other races of the species, and that this race should be considered conspecific with P. washoensis.

Thanks to M.P. Frankis for his 1998.12 contributions to the Taxonomic Notes section.

See also

The Ecological Role of Fire in Sierran Conifer Forests.

Lanner (1983).

Lauria (1991).

Last Modified 2017-12-29