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Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Pinus ponderosa, the Ponderous Pine

Ten-inch long needles in groups of 3; thick orange, deeply fissured bark; the faint smell of vanilla… the ponderosa pine is a Heritage Tree #285distinct tree, a hallmark of the American West, and the most widely distributed pine in North America.  The ponderosa pine, aka the yellow pine or bull pine by foresters, is drought-adapted and thrives where frequent, low-intensity fires keep forests low-density and free of underbrush.  They are shade intolerant and their own dropped needles and cones are excellent kindling.  In frequent-fire regimes, ponderosas live 500 or more years and develop sturdy trunks, reinforced by fire-induced pitch-run.  Likely named for their size, ponderosa pines are commonly 4 feet wide and 120 feet tall, though they reach 7 feet wide and more than 200 feet tall when allowed to do so. 

Though it comes as a surprise to some, ponderosa pines are frequent in the WillametteValley, and plantations of young trees are being established where it is too wet for Douglas-fir.  In Beavertonand Tualatin, 200-300 year old pines still stand.  There are no fewer than 5 ponderous pines on the Heritage Tree list.  A notable specimen, #285 on the corner of NE Fremontand 29th, bears a stone telling us it used to mark the Pearson farm.  Here is the power of a tree to link us through time and capture our imaginations.  Looking out, it is not so hard for the street and the power lines and the houses to disappear, and a farm on the slope of a fertile valley to take their place.