National Geographic : 1955 Nov
Western White Pine, Monarch of an Unspoiled Land (State Tree of Idaho) M ISTS rise from a stream racing beneath tall pine spires in a clean mountain world. The scene: a remote valley of the Rocky Mountains in the "pipestem" of northern Idaho. The tree: western white pine (Pinus mon ticola), one of the most valued conifers of the West, cherished for its beauty in parks and sought by the lumberman for its white, straight-grained, flaw-free wood. David Douglas, the celebrated Scottish plant explorer whose name is commemorated in the Douglas fir (page 685), discovered this pine. As to where and when, there is some controversy. Some say 1825, others 1831. Evidently he made his discovery in what is now the State of Washington. Douglas sent seeds of the tree to Great Britain. Not until the 1850's, however, did western white pine become widely cultivated there. Actually the tree likes Scotland and Ireland better than England. Fares Better Than Eastern White Pine Western white pine is the transcontinental counterpart and today a grander version of eastern white pine (page 656). As would be expected, the western tree has managed to remain wilder and less molested by axmen than the eastern. In fact, since most of our big eastern white pines have been lumbered, we tend to think of the western species as naturally having the more impressive dimen sions. Its heavier needles give the latter tree a denser crown. Southern British Columbia, including Van couver Island, is the northern limit of western white pine's range. Southward it spreads through western and northeastern Washing ton, northern Idaho, and northwest Montana to western Oregon and northern California, to the middle Sierra Nevada, and to iso lated stations on the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. It does not cross the Continental Divide. In British Columbia and Washington it grows from near sea level up to 3,500 and 6,000 feet, respectively. The higher locations are in the interior. In Oregon it is found be tween 3,000 and 6,000 feet in the north and from 5,000 to 7,500 feet in the south. At its southernmost limit in California western white pine climbs to 11,000 feet. This is a long-lived tree, adding up a ripe old age of from 200 to 500 years. It may reach a height of 170 feet and a breast-high diameter of five feet. The largest known liv ing specimen flourishes near the town of Elk River, Idaho. This tree soars to 219 feet, with a breast-high circumference of 21 feet 3 inches. Typically, western white pine grows in dense but not pure stands. Its arboreal companions in the North are western hem lock and Douglas fir, grand and Pacific sil ver firs. In California it commonly asso ciates with Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, red and Shasta firs. Endures Hot and Cold Extremes When young the tree is tolerant of shade, but it becomes rather intolerant with increas ing years. It grows on a variety of sites but reaches its best proportions in deep porous soils. Western white pine gets along on 15 inches of annual precipitation in Montana and Idaho, yet does very well, too, in the Puget Sound area with 60 inches or more. It grows in areas where temperatures vary from -26° to +980 F. In the open the student can readily recog nize western white pine from the tree's habit of sending out a few more or less horizontal branches beyond the rest. In the more typi cal dense stand the tree has a narrow, conical crown with numerous short, rather droop ing branches. The bole eventually becomes branch-free for half to more than two-thirds of its length from the ground. White pine blister rust finds a ready vic tim in western white pine; this fungus kills the tree by girdling its trunk and limbs. Pine squirrels and certain birds, such as the white-headed woodpecker and Steller's jay, destroy the cones in their greed for the seeds. Major Stands in Idaho More than 17 billion board feet of western white pine still stand in the United States, according to estimates. Idaho, with 12 billion board feet, claims the preponderance. The most important timber in northern Idaho is western white pine. The State leads in lumber production of this tree, locally known as Idaho white pine.