Yosemite > Library > Cone-bearing Trees > An Easy Method of Identifying the Cone-bearing Trees of Yosemite >
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The first step in identification of a conifer is to examine the foliage and compare it with these sketches. Then locate in the identification key the group in which you have placed the foliage. Next note other factors such as the elevation at which the tree is growing, form, size, bark pattern, etc., and check these against the descriptions given in the key.
Note that the species in each group are arranged in ascending order from the foothills to timber-line. It should also be understood that this key is accurate for Yosemite and adjacent regions only.
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A. LEAVES IN 3-NEEDLED BUNDLES (YELLOW PINES)
1. Digger Pine (Pinus sabiniana). Foothill trees with broad, open crowns, trunks generally forked, 50 to 75 feet high, restricted in Yosemite to canyon bottoms and low mountains on western boundary. Leaves 8 to 12 inches long, gray-green, tasseled and drooping from ends of branches. Cones persistent, 6 to 10 inches long with triangular, down-curving hooks on ends of cone scales. Bark dark grayish-brown, deeply fissured. Elevation generally 600 to 3000 feet.
2. Knobcone Pine (Pinus attenuata). A rare, slender tree 15 to 60 feet high, knobby with conspicuous clusters of persistent cones. Leaves 3 to 5 inches long, pale yellow-green, drooping. Cones 3 to 6 inches long, persistent and whorled on main branches and trunks. Bark dull, grayish-brown, shallowly fissured. Grows along tops of mountains west of Yosemite and in park at only four known locations.
3. Western Yellow Pine (Pinus ponderosa). A tall forest tree 80 to 200 feet high, densely foliated with tips of branches conspicuously upturned. Leaves 4 to 11 inches long, bright yellow-green. Cones 3 to 5 inches long, scales armed with straight, slender prickles. Bark of young trees brown, of mature, yellow, arranged in massive plates. Dominant tree in Yosemite Valley and abundant from 3500 to 5500 feet elevation.
4. Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi), Similar to species described above. See text for detailed comparison. Cones 5 to 10 inches long, stout, cone-scale prickles point down. Bark reddish-brown with strong pine-apple odor evident in crevices. Mingles with Western Yellow Pines in Yosemite Valley, prefers higher elevations up to 10,000 feet.
B. LEAVES IN 5-NEEDLED BUNDLES (WHITE PINES)
1. Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana). Massive, flat-topped trees 180 to 240 feet high with unequally lengthed branches and short leaves 2 to 3 1/2 inches long, rigid, slender, sharp-pointed, deep blue-green. Cones 14 to 24 inches long, pendant, clustered at ends of branches. Bark, thick, flaky, purplish-brown or reddish, deeply fissured. Their range is between 4000 and 7500 feet.
2. Western White Pine (Pinus monticola). Similar to Sugar Pine, but smaller (80 to 120 feet high) and upper branches sharply ascending. Cones smaller, bark broken into small rectangular plates. Leaves similar to Sugar Pine. Cones like above species but 6 to 8 inches long and curved. Bark whitish or reddish, broken into small square blocks. Common from 7000 feet nearly to timber-line.
3. White-bark Pine (Pinus albicaulis). The timber-line tree, 10 to 50 feet high, irregular crowns, many stems, shrub-like, or prostrate at timber-line. Bark whitish especially on limbs. Leaves 1 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches long, stout, stiff, dark blue-green. Cones 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, purple, remain closed after ripe. Common from 10,000 feet to timber-line.
C. LEAVES IN 2-NEEDLED BUNDLES
1. Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta). The only 2-needle pine in Yosemite, 30 to 80 feet high. Leaves 1 to 2 1/2 inches long, stiff, flat, bright yellow-careen. Cones 1 to 2 inches long, when ripe basal scales remain closed. Bark grayish-yellow, very thin and scaly. Found from Yosemite Valley to timber-line, most abundant from 7000 to 10,000 feet.
D. LEAVES IN 1-NEEDLED BUNDLES
1. Single-leaf Pine (Pinus monophvlla). Only pine in America with papery sheath encasing one needle. Leaves 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, stiff, round, sharp-pointed, curved, yellow-green. Cones 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long, egg-shaped, chocolate-brown. Bark thin, dark brown, irregularly fissured. A foothill tree 10 to 25 feet high in desert ranges east of Sierra, one grove in Yosemite.
1. California Nutmeg (Tumion californicum). Fir-like trees, 15 to 20 feet high, leaves extremely prickly 1 to 2 1/2 inches long, flat, rigid, keenly pointed, glossy, dark-green. Fruit elliptical, 1 to 2 inches long, plum-like, olive-green. Bark gray, thin with short narrow ridges. Found along All-Year Highway from Arch Rock to Cascade Falls and along New Tioga Road to Cascade Falls.
2. White Fir (Abies concolor). Extremely symmetrical tree 60 to 200 feet high, with regularly whorled layers of flat branches. Leaves 3/4 to 2 inches long, short petiole (leaf stalk) twisted, forming flat sprays or sometimes erect in 2 rows, pale blue-green. Cones 3 to 5 inches long, erect, rounded at summit and base, brown, breaking apart while still attached to branches. Bark thick, deeply fissured, ashy outer bark, yellow-brown inner bark. Ranges from 3500 to 8000 feet.
3. Red Fir (Abies magnifica). Similar to White Fir but denser, bluer foliage and deep red bark, 100 to 200 feet high. Leaves 3/4 to 1 inch long, 4-sided in cross-section, straight petiole, tend to grow up, dark blue-green. Cones 4 to 8 inches long, erect, blunt, velvety, purple or brown. Bark thick, in zig-zag ridges, dark red on outside, brighter red on inside, white in youth and on upper limbs of old trees as also with White Fir. Ranges from 6000 to 9000 feet.
B. NEEDLES GROWING ALL AROUND THE BRANCHES
1. Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia). Forest trees, 150 to 180 feet high, with feathery, drooping branchlets. Leaves 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches long, short, distinct petiole, flat, soft, light green above, grayish-green beneath (new foliage vivid yellow). Cones 1 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches long, pendant, red-brown with conspicuously exerted 3-pointed bracts. Bark dark brown, thick, rough. Vertical range is between 3500 and 5500 feet.
2. Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana). Graceful, high mountain trees, 60 to 100 feet high, with drooping tops. Leaves 1/2 to 3/4 inches long, rounded, short petioles, growing in short tufts, dark or pale blue green. Cones 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, purple to light brown. Bark red-brown, deep fissured. Grows on north slopes from 8000 feet to timber-line.
3. Single-leaf Pine (Pinus monophylla). See description in Group 1, D-1.
1. Incense Cedar (Libocedrus decurrens). Trees, 50 to 150 feet high, with dense foliage pendant in flat sprays. Leaves 1/8 to 1/2 inch long, fragrant, light yellow-green, scale-like, overlapping in two pairs forming distinct nodes. Cones 3/4 to 1 inch long, resembling conventional sketch of fleur-de-lis. Bark thick, cinnamon-red, conspicuously virtically fissured. Abundant in Yosemite Valley and from 3000 to 5500 feet elevations.
2. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis). A high mountain tree, 15 to 30 feet high. Leaves about 1/8 inch long, adherent, grayish-green, scale-like, in groups of threes. Fruit 1/4 inch in diameter, bluish-black covered with white bloom. Bark elongated flat strips, cinnamon-brown. Scattered on bare granite at elevations of 7000 to 9000 feet.
3. Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea). Massive trees, 200 to 300 feet high, with huge trunks widely buttressed at base. Leaves 1/8 to 1/2 inch long, scale-like, overlapping and closely adherent to branch or awl-like, then spreading at tips. Cones 2 to 3 inches long, egg shaped. Bark exceedingly thick, up to 24 inches, fibrous, deeply grooved, cinnamon-red. Grows only in detached groves on Sierra Nevada at elevations from 5000 to 8000 feet.
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