Ten-inch long needles in groups of 3; thick orange, deeply fissured bark; the faint smell of vanilla… the ponderosa pine is a distinct 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.