(Pinaceae Pinus ponderosa)
Adopted in 1949.
Pinus ponderosa, Western Yellow Pine,
Bull, Black Jack, Western Red, Sierra
Brownbark, Heavy, Western Pitch,
Ponderosa Pine. Montana's state tree has
a long list of names. This stately
western Montana resident has figured
heavily in the development of all the
West. The Ponderosa Pine , Pinaceae
Pinus ponderosa, was adopted in 1949
as the state tree.
In what is now South Dakota, Lewis
and Clark first observed the cones of
the ponderosa pine which had floated
that far on the currents of the Missouri
River. Captain Lewis, particularly, took
extensive notes on the tree as he passed
through its habitat later during the
journey west and back, but his untimely
death in 1809 delayed any serious
scientific study of the tree until the
end of the 19th century.
Pioneers needed no detailed report to
encourage their use of the pine's wood
for the civilization they were building.
Ponderosa timber served everywhere, from
railroad ties and telegraph poles to
mine bracing and homes. Only later did
its long needles and attractive cones
garner more scientific consideration.
In the spring of 1908, Helena's school
children held a referendum on which tree
best represented the state. The
ponderosa easily outdistanced fir,
larch, and cottonwood for the
It was not until 1949, however, that the
Montana Legislature bestowed its
blessing. The Montana Federation of
Garden Clubs carried on a year-long
campaign on behalf of the ponderosa. The
state forester supported it as the "most
typical" of all Montana trees and the
best commercial timber... "king of the
forest," he called it. The Legislature
Montana's lumbermen have seconded the
praise over the years, harvesting
millions of board feet from public and
private lands throughout the state. In a
recent year, the value of ponderosa pine
harvested from public land alone was
more than four million dollars.
Today the tree may be found in most
parts of western Montana. Its range
includes the entire West, from the
plains to the Pacific Coast. On the
average the tree reaches maturity when
60 to 125 feet tall (about 150 years
old) and approximately 20 to 30 inches
in diameter. The largest ponderosa pine
on record live along the humid Pacific
coast, where California naturalist John
Muir once measured a giant, 220 feet
tall and eight feet in diameter.
The beauty and value of the ponderosa
pine makes it truly representative of
Montana and worthy of its designation as
the state tree.
Ponderosa pines grow straight and
tall, sometimes more than two hundred
feet. Lewis and Clark first learned of
the tree's existence when they found
cones that had been washed down the
Missouri River into the Dakotas
Ponderosa pine (Pinus
ponderosa), also called western
yellow pine, is one of the most widely
distributed pines in western North
America. A major source of timber,
ponderosa pine forests are also
important as wildlife habitat, for
recreational use, and for esthetic
values. Within its extensive range, two
varieties of the species currently are
recognized: Pinus ponderosa var.
ponderosa (Pacific ponderosa
pine) (typical) and var. scopulorum
(Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine)
(10). Arizona pine (P. arizonica),
sometimes classified as a variety of
ponderosa pine (12,36,51), is presently
recognized as a separate species (45).
Leaf: Evergreen, 5 to 10
inches long, with three (sometimes 2)
tough, yellow-green needles per
fascicle. When crushed, needles have a
turpentine odor sometimes reminiscent of
Flower: Monoecious; males
yellow-red, cylindrical, in clusters
near ends of branches; females reddish
at branch tips.
Fruit: Cones are ovoid, 3 to 6
inches long, sessile, red-brown in
color, armed with a slender prickle.
Maturing August to September.
Twig: Stout, orange in color,
turning black. Buds often covered with
Bark: Very dark (nearly black)
on young trees, developing
cinnamon-colored plates and deep
Form: A large tree with an
irregular crown, eventually developing a
flat top or short conical crown.
Ponderosa pine self-prunes well and
develops a clear bole.
||Plantae -- Plants
||Spermatophyta -- Seed
||Coniferophyta – Conifers
||Pinaceae – Pine family
||Pinus L. – pine
P.& C. Lawson – ponderosa
Dendrology at Virginia Tech
U.S. Department of Agriculture