Ponderosa pine

Category: Softwood
Region: Interior
Title: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Photo credit: Barbara Zimonick

Ponderosa pine, the largest of the western pine species, is found on semi-arid plateaus and slopes in B.C.’s southern interior. The wood is straight-grained, nonporous with a fine and uniform texture, and light in colour, ranging from cream to yellow to pale reddish-brown.

Ponderosa pine is used for light and medium construction and a variety of exterior and interior products. Open-canopy ponderosa pine forests are also important as wildlife habitat, watersheds, livestock grazing and recreational use.

Where it grows

Ponderosa pine is the characteristic tree of B.C.’s southern interior. It grows in a variety of soils, from extremely dry to well-drained, relatively deep moist soils. It has a long, deep root that enables it to access deeper, moister soil, and keeps it firm in windy conditions.

Ponderosa pine is found predominantly in pure stands with small even-aged trees as a result of frequent ground and crown wildfires in the areas where it grows. The thick bark protects the trees from frequent ground fires that burn needles and dead grass, and it is common to see fire scars on older trees. At higher elevations, it grows with interior Douglas-fir.

Did you know?

On a hot day, the bark of the ponderosa pine smells like vanilla, and if a young twig is broken, it smells somewhat like oranges. 

Ponderosa pine species distribution map

Identifiable characteristics

Ponderosa pine is a large-crowned tree with a straight trunk. It is the largest of the western pine species, and usually grows to 25 to 30 metres, although it can reach 50 metres with a diameter of two metres and can live as long as 400 to 500 years.

The bark is blackish, rough and scaly on young trees, and on mature trees it is very thick (up to 10 centimetres), bright orangey-brown and deeply grooved into flat, flaky plates. The needles are in bunches of three, or occasionally in both twos and threes. They are 12 to 28 centimetres long and slender with sharp points and sharply toothed edges. The seed cones are narrowly oval when closed and are 7 to 14 centimetres long with no stalk. The scales get thicker toward the tip and have a sharp, rigid prickle. Seeds have a 2.5-centimetre wing.

Photo credit: Barbara Zimonick

Common uses and applications

Ponderosa pine wood is commonly used in kitchen furniture, turnery and doors, and for light and medium construction, window frames and interior trim. Knotty pine is often selected for interior woodwork, where it is used for furniture, sashes, frames, door mouldings, panelling, cabinet work and shelving.

The lumber is used to a lesser extent for piles, poles, posts, veneer, railroad crossties and mine timbers. Low-grade lumber is used for boxes and crates. Much intermediate or low-grade lumber is used for sheathing, sub-flooring and roof boards.

Indigenous Peoples in the Interior of B.C. have many uses for ponderosa pine. They eat the seeds and inner bark of both the ponderosa and whitebark pine. It is also used for making dugout canoes, and the pitch is used for waterproofing moccasins and other items. It can also be mixed with bear grease to make an ointment for sores and inflamed eyes.

Suzuki House, Japan | Photo credit: Seiji Takakuwa, World Spread

Interior daytime image of Suzuki House, showing extensive use of Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) wood flooring, trim, stairway, and bookshelves

Commercial availability  

Ponderosa pine is marketed on its own primarily as a millwork species under National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA) grade rules. Clears, shop lumber and moulding stock are most common, although there are many potential appearance grades that can be produced.

Ponderosa pine lumber is dried according to end-use and customer specifications. Kiln drying inhibits natural staining of the wood, improves its strength and stiffness, enhances its appearance, and increases its resistance to decay and attack by insects.

Photo credit: Michael Bednar

Several Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) boards laid out for viewing

Ponderosa pine – physical properties

Density (kg/m3)Green438
Air dry459
Specific gravity (12% m.c.)Standard0.44
Hardness (N)Side2640
MOE (Mpa)Green7790
Air dry9510
MOR (Mpa)Green39.3
Air dry73.3
Compression parallel (Mpa)Air dry42.3
Compression Perpendicular (Mpa)Air dry5.22
Shear (Mpa)Air dry7.03
Cleavage (N/mm width)Air dry48.3
OD = oven dry
air = air dry 12%
Radial (OD)4.6%
Tangential (OD)5.9%
Volumetric (OD)10.5%
Volumetric (air)6.1%
Tang / rad ratio1.3

Ponderosa pine – visual properties

HeartwoodFrom yellow/orange to a reddish-brown.
SapwoodNearly white to pale yellow.
Heartwood / sapwood contrastSapwood is wide and distinct from the heartwood.
Latewood / earlywood contrastThere is a noticeable distinction between earlywood and latewood.
Wood is generally straight-grained and uniform in texture.
Plainsawn lumber or rotary-cut veneer: distinct, to inconspicuous growth ring.
Quartersawn lumber or quarter-sliced veneer: distinctly darker with striping.
Widely spaced large knots common.
Wood is resinous, possible pitch pockets present. Pitch can be set by proper drying.

Ponderosa pine – working properties

PlaningEasy, with fair to good resultsPitch build-up on tools could be a problem.
TurningEasyYields a good surface quality.
SawingEasy to work with both hand and power toolsResin exudation may gum up saw teeth. Slight to moderate blunting effect.
BoringEasy, with fair to good results
MortisingGood mortising quality
ShapingGood shaping quality
SandingEasy, with good sanding
ScrewingEasyGood holding. Excellent splitting resistance.
Nail retention Moderate
Lateral nail holdingModerateGood holding. Excellent splitting resistance.
GluingGlues wellBonds well with a fairly wide range of adhesives under a moderately wide range of bonding conditions.
StainingGoodGood staining properties for light colours and poor for dark ones.
PaintingAverage to good paint holding abilityThe presence of knots makes painting difficult. Resin content can cause difficulties.
LacqueringGood results with satin water borne acrylic (low gloss clear)Performed well in the tape test (i.e., small flakes of the coating were detached at intersections of cuts) and in the pull-off test (i.e., average strength of 29 kg/cm2).
WaxingFair to good results
Ease of dryingEasy to moderately easyLittle tendency to warp or twist.
Natural decay resistanceNon-durable to slightly durableNot appropriate for prolonged outdoor exposure.
TreatabilityImpermeableSapwood is permeable, but heartwood is impermeable.

Data for these property tables has been compiled by FPInnovations from internal and external scientific sources.
FPInnovations is a not-for-profit technical research institute serving the Canadian forest sector.