Got Pine? - Your 60-Second Guide to Naming your Pine
by J. Zimmerman, Ph.D.
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Shrubs of California
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An accessible field guide to California's native tree species and most of its common shrub species.
Illustrated by over 100 line drawings, 300 range maps, and 40 color photographs.
Quickstart by counting the number of needles in a bundle from your tree.
You know you have a pine - but is it the rare
Torrey? Is it the rich, dark
Or the longest-coned
This handy route map leads you to your
answer in a minute through less than a
Select each answer interactively with your cursor.
Then you jump automatically to the next question.
But if nothing fits here, then you probably have
a tree that is
not in the Pine genus, Pinus.
even if it's in the Pine family, Pinaceae
Go with the Flow to Track Down the Name of your Californian Pine Tree.
First count the number of needles in two or three mature bundles of pine
leaves on your native California pine tree.
How many pine needles are in each bundle?
Depending on the typical
number of needles, go to the sections below marked: Five (5), Four (4), Three (3),
Five (5) needles in each bundle
- If the mature needles
are no more than 1.5" long, then:
- Otherwise, if the needles are over 7" long:
- Otherwise, the needles are 1.5" to 7" long. If the cones are over 1
- Otherwise, if the cone-scales are thin (you may also notice
that the tree grows in moist mountain soils and maybe from 50 feet to 100 feet
white pine (P.monticola).
- Otherwise, the cone-scales are thick. Grows on dry rocky slopes as high as timberline;
is less than 50 feet:
Four (4) needles in each bundle
In California, you have
pine or parry pinyon (P.quadrifolia).
Three (3) needles in each bundle
3-needle-to-a-bundle pine is most likely California's most common conifer:
pine (P.ponderosa). Check for needles to
10", roughness between fingers when pulled from tip to base, and
3"-5" prickly cones.
- Otherwise, if the branches are laden with many cones, closed and
open, young and old, then you have a "closed" pine. The scales on its
cones are closed unless very hot conditions (fire or a very warm day) make some
of them open. For a closed pine, if the foliage is:
- pale yellowish green, you have a knobcone
pine (P.attenuata), and you are probably on sparsely vegetated
- glossy and bright blue-green, you have a Monterey
pine (P.radiata), and you are probably in one of its rare coastal
or island locations (or in an urban forest where this pine is popularly
- Otherwise check for:
- The strong smell of vanilla or pineapple in the fissures in
the dark-red bark: Jeffrey
pine (P.jeffreyi). Check for stiff needles to 10" and
large smooth cones whose prickles turn inward.
- Heavy plump cones (12" long, 6" diameter) with sharply
hooked scale tips: Coulter
(or big cone) pine (P.coulteri). Check for thick,
rigid, deep blue-green needles to 12" long.
- Droopy needles to 10", which indicate gray (or
foothill or digger) pine (P.sabiniana). To confirm, check for a
spindly dark-gray trunk, or apple-sized to pineapple-sized prickly cones with
especially vicious hooklike spurs at each cone's base.
Two (2) needles in each bundle
If the needles are
over 3" and up to 6" long:
bishop pine (P.muricata).
Otherwise the needles are 3" or less, and often twisted:
lodgepole pine (P.contorta).
Of the four subspecies of lodgepole pine, the
most common in California are spp. murrayana or Sierra-Cascade
lodgepole pine (also called tamarac pine) and spp. contorta or coastal
lodgepole pine (also called shore pine or beach pine).
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