National Geographic : 1955 Nov
Ponderosa Pine, a Buttress of the Lumber Industry (State Tree of Montana) S TRAIGHT, strong trunks, sheathed with large bark plates that glow cinnamon red in the sun, identify the massive ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Familiar to motor ists and holidaymakers, it grows in every State from the western edge of the Great Plains to the Pacific and in parts of south western Canada, even Mexico. Dry and parklike groves of ponderosa pine, floored with needles, grass, manzanita, and mountain mahogany, delight the hiker in the high and arid plateaus and foothills of the West. On the Fourth of July, 1876, in a small Arizona settlement, lumberjacks stripped the branches from a lofty ponderosa pine to run up the American flag with rawhide strings. The tall flagpole became such a well-known landmark that it named the place Flagstaff. Supreme Court Defends Tree's Name Ponderosa pine is perhaps the only Ameri can tree whose name has been reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. In 1934 the Court ruled against selling lumber of this species as "California white pine." The valuable tree is the most widely dis tributed commercial species of the West. Its vernacular names are many, including bull pine, western yellow pine, and yellow pine. Ranging in height from 80 to 200 feet, the tree has a deep taproot as well as an exten sive system of lateral roots. It grows in varied sites, from sands to clays and gravels or in Page 686 - Tall and Massive Ponderosa Pines Enrich and Beautify the West +Botanically, this tree belongs to the cluster-pine section of the hard-pine subgenus. It has persistent leaf sheaths, jointed seed wings, and relatively hard wood. Stout leaves average 5 to 7 inches in length and grow typically in bunches of three. Cones, often clustered, start out erect and greenish to purplish in hue. Later they become horizontal or downbent and reddish brown. Oblong or ovoid in shape, the cones are about 3 to 6 inches long, their scales thickening at the end and bearing a slender prickle. When a cone drops off, it often leaves part of the base attached to the branch. Freshly broken twigs release an odor like that of orange peel. Buds (not shown) are brown. © National Geographic Society Paintings by National Geographic Artist Walter A. Weber volcanic ash. It frequents both dry and moist slopes, canyons and ridgetops, requiring nor mally about 18 inches of rain a year. The species has many variations. In east ern Nevada, Utah, and in the Rocky Moun tain area generally there is a type some times known as "Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine." On the Coconino Plateau in northern Arizona ponderosa forms the most extensive pure pine forest in this country, if not in the world. A Major Timber Resource The total commercial stand of ponderosa pine in the United States is estimated at a very substantial 186 billion board feet. It ranks third among United States lumber species, providing three to four billion board feet annually. Actually, as a single species, it ranks second only to Douglas fir, for southern yellow pine, nominally in second place, is a complex of six distinct species. Ponderosa rates high as construction lum ber, mine timber, and piling. It is popular for boxes and crates, and for millwork-doors, sashes, and flooring. As it does not easily split, it takes nails and screws readily. Slabs and other waste make good fuel. Specific gravity ranges from 0.39 to 0.60. Light in weight, the wood is strong, somewhat coarse-textured, but often even-grained.