Ponderosa pine

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

Ponderosa pine, the largest of the western pine species, is found on semi-arid plateaus and slopes in BC’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 BC’s southern interior and can live as long as 400 to 500 years. 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. 

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.

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.

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 BC 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

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.