Where it Grows:
Native to the Rocky Mountains as well as the mountains of SE Washington and NE Oregon, lodgepole pine grows in middle to high elevations. It likes dry, cold forests where many other trees can't survive. At lower elevations lodgepole pine grows with other conifers like subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, western larch, and Douglas-fir. Lodgepole pinegrows best in full sun.
What Lodgepole Pine Looks Like:
The leaves are needles and the seeds are in cones.
Leaves: The 1-3 inch long needles grow in groups of two. They are stiff, yellow green and often twisted.
Cones: The small brown woody cones are 1-2 inches long. They have tiny, sharp prickles. In some areas, lodgepole cones are sealed by a resin and need heat to open. Fires can provide the heat to open cones and free millions of lodgepole seeds to start a new forest.
Bark: Thin, grey-brown and flaky on older trees.
How Fire Affects Lodgepole Pine:
Lodgepole pine trees have thin bark and are easily killed by fire. Lodgepole forests are usually dense so fire spreads easily. Surface fires can spread up a tree on dead branches, becoming crown fires. Crown fires kill lodgepole forests. But, fire is a part of the lodgepole pine ecosystem. Fire removes old trees, trees affected by insects or disease and opens cones to release seeds for a new forest. Lodgepole pine likes open sunny areas and reseeds quickly in burned-over areas.
Who Uses Lodgepole Pine?
People: The wood is used for plywood, lumber, posts and poles, and paper.
Americans Indians used lodgepole pines for tipis; pitch and resin for chewing gum; and the inner cambium layer to cure tuberculosis.
Wildlife:The seeds are eaten by squirrels and chipmunks. The needles are eaten by blue grouse and spruce grouse. Lodgepole pine forests provide shelter for deer, elk, moose, and bears. After fires, beetles feed on the burned wood. Woodpeckers come in to eat insects living under the burned bark.
What's In a Name?
The scientific name Pinus contorta means "twisted pine." Four subspecies of lodgepole pine live in the United States. The lodgepole we see around Idaho isn't twisted like the lodgepole that grows along the Oregon and northern California coast.