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The Cone-bearing Trees of Yosemite (1939) by James E. Cole


LODGEPOLE PINE

Pinus contorta Loudon.

Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
[click to enlarge]
Lodgepole Pines are an exception to the general rule that the forested areas of Yosemite consist of numerous species with one kind predominating. However, in many localities in Yosemite, especially in filled-in river or lake bottoms at higher elevations, Lodgepole Pines form extensive pure stands. At elevations of from 8500 feet to timberline Western Junipers, Mountain Hemlocks, and White-bark Pines frequently associate with the Lodgepoles.

Practically all of the conifers in the park are restricted in distribution to certain quite characteristic elevations. This is also true with the Lodgepole Pines to a large extent. They are high mountain trees preferring elevations between 7000 and 10,000 feet. However, they are found both above and below this belt, occasionally quite abundantly, but more frequently sparsely scattered along the water courses. In Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 4000 feet, many typical specimens occur along the Merced River near Yosemite Lodge and Camp 19 [Editor’s note: former employee campground between Sentinel Bridge and Housekeeping Camp—dea] . The Glacier Point road passes through a fine Lodgepole Pine forest in the meadows on both sides of Bridalveil Creek.

This species conforms so strictly to the generalized pine type as to be undistinguished and unpretentious in shape under ordinary conditions especially when found in dense thickets. But just below timber-line it forms small, flat-topped, many trunked trees growing in small clumps and varies so far from the dense forest type as to be frequently mistaken for a different species. Here storm-battered and scarred Lodgepole Pines are sometimes found in semi-prostrate forms so characteristic of trees that brave the gales and drifting snows of winter.

When crowded together, they grow exceptionally tall and slender with perfect, narrowly conical spires. Trees fifty feet high with diameters of five or six inches are not uncommon in such habitats. It was due to these slender trunks that they were named Lodgepole Pines by Lewis and Clark. Indians of the Great Plains journeyed to the Rocky Mountains to obtain such slender poles for their lodges or tepees. In the open groves near timber-line or when standing alone at lower elevations the trunks attain diameters of two or three feet. Whether crowded or solitary, they are never tall trees; the average height when mature is about sixty feet. Occasionally a large specimen occurs, for one sixty-two inches in diameter has been measured in Yosemite on Merced Pass trail near Moraine Meadows Such large trees may reach ages of 200 to 300 years, but the average mature lodgepole is from 100 to 200 years old.

The principal distinguishing characteristic of Lodgepole Pines necessitates examination of the foliage. Each bundle is found to consist of two needles. The leaves of no other pine in Yosemite are in bundles of two. From a distance, the trees are recognizable by the short needles that loosely clothe the upcurving ends of the slender much divided branches, and by the thin, yellow, or grayish, scaly bark.

Having a very thin bark, this two-needle pine is damaged by fire more easily than most other conifers. Ground fires which may not affect thick-barked trees, kill lodgepoles. Very frequently, due to the abundance of yellow resin on the bark and the presence of many dead branches low on the trunk, a ground fire takes hold, rapidly runs up the bark igniting the dry dead boughs, and quickly shoots into the crown so that even green trees catch fire readily. The “Ghost Forests” of Lodgepole Pines along the Tioga Road have resulted not from fire but from the ravages of insects, the needleminers, which attacked the foliage, and ultimately killed hundreds of thousands of trees in these Lodgepole Pine forests. The leaves are short (one to two and one-half inches long), stout, bright yellow-green, and flattened in comparison with the needles of other Yosemite pines. Intermixed, and partially hidden within the leaves, grow the small cones which remain attached to the branches for several seasons after the seeds have been shed.

Although never large trees and not outstanding in any way excepting by the number of needles, Lodgepole Pines are, nevertheless, admired by mountaineers for their indomitable spirit in conquering and holding great expanses of inhospitable mountains, where evening memories of starlit skies seen through the blurred cloud of Lodgepole Pine foliage recur to brighten tedious days and to hasten the return to their midst.



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