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What is a Ponderosa Pine?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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A Ponderosa Pine or Pinus ponderosa is a pine tree native to Western North America. These trees are very abundant in their native range, forming a common sight in the natural environment, and they are utilized for a variety of commercial purposes. Ponderosa Pine forests can stretch across vast swaths of land, providing habitat for numerous animals, and these trees have a very long history in their native region.

There are several different subspecies, ponderosa, brachyptera, scopulorum,, and benthamiana of Ponderosa Pine, with some botanists treating the subspecies as different species entirely. Ponderosa Pines are famous for having bark which grows in plates, and may be yellowish, orange, or brown in color. The needles are typically long and dark green, with between two and five in a cluster, depending on the subspecies and the region. Classically, Ponderosa Pines have three needles in a cluster.

These trees can top out at a height of around 180 feet (55 meters). They are also known as Western Yellow or Bull Pines, and they can be found in USDA zones four through eight. Many are very fond of the high plateau found in areas of the American West such as Colorado. These trees are also drought tolerant and tolerant of salt, which allows them to thrive in myriad environments; as long as a Ponderosa Pine gets enough sun, it will usually do very well.

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Natural stands of Ponderosa Pina are often logged selectively, allowing younger trees to continue to grow so that they can achieve a taller mature height before they are harvested in the future. Selective logging is also better for the environment, as it preserves more of the natural habitat, prevents soil loss, and reduces the risk that an area will be overrun with non-native plants taking advantage of the opening left by clear cutting. Logging companies may also create Ponderosa Pine plantations which are designed to be harvested all at once.

Some gardeners may opt to grow Ponderosa Pines as ornamentals, both inside and outside their native range. In their native range, these trees can be part of a garden which features native plants and a design which is meant to help the garden blend in with the surrounding natural environment. Because these trees are easy to care for, they are also sometimes popular in low maintenance, low water gardens. Nurseries can order trees by request for their customers, and make recommendations for the cultivar which would be most appropriate for a gardener's needs.

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