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Trees of Yosemite (1932, 1948) by Mary Curry Tresidder

Lodgepole Pine

Pinus murrayana Ore.

Lodgepole Pine Cones. About Natural Size
Lodgepole Pine Cones
About Natural Size

The Lodgepole Pine is very commonly called the Tamarack on the Pacific Coast; the true Tamarack of the East is a larch, however, not a pine. Dr. Jepson proposes the name “Tamrac Pine” for this species. It is sometimes considered a variation—P. contorta murrayana Engelm.

This tree dominates much of our forest cover at 6,000 to 9,000 feet, but it is to be found in greater or less abundance both above and below that elevation, caching from the floor of Yosemite Valley to timber line. Young trees of this species are not infrequent along the watercourses of the Valley; above Sentinel Bridge, for example, are a number of them, scattered among the Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs and Cottonwoods.

It attains a height of from fifty to one hundred feet ordinarily, has a pyramidal crown, particularly in the younger trees, and develops a trunk diameter of from one to two feet. The bark is thin and grayish-brown, becoming scaly in old trees.

The needles, borne two in a sheath, are an inch and a half to two inches long, and yellowish-green in color. The fruit is a cone one and a half to two and a half inches in length, tapering, pendent, with sharp prickles on the scales. The cones mature in August or September, but often remain on the trees for some time, either remaining closed or shedding the seed at once.

To many people this tree is the least attractive of our pines. It is often a most untidy tree; the dead branches clasping the lower portion of the trunk, the bark stripped and hanging, and the lower limbs drooping mournfully toward the ground combine to give it a most desolate appearance. On account of its moisture-loving tendency it is first to encroach upon a meadow and thus hastens the process of change which is affecting so many of these charming spots. Bridalveil and Peregoy Meadows on the Glacier Point Road are instances of this.

The thinness of the bark and the prevalence of dead branches render it an easy prey to fire and to pests that work through the bark. Along the Tioga Road in the region of Tuolumne Meadows and near Tenaya Lake thousands of dead trees bear witness to the work of two pests. The Yosemite Museum has an exhibit of pictures and specimens showing their methods. The needle is attacked by a needle miner, a moth which lays its eggs in the needle; the foliage is then ravaged by the pupae, and the tree, in a weakened condition, is attacked by the Mountain Pine beetle, which completes the work of destruction by girdling with its galleries the cambium layer, through which the sap flows. The only known remedy lies in cutting out and burning these trees over a wide enough area to serve as a break to the spread of these insects; but the damage, when it first came under observation, had already covered too wide a territory to make such means effective. However, such pests often work in cycles, and at present there seems to have been some sort of natural check.

The one happy feature of this situation lies in the increased growth of such trees as the Mountain Hemlock where destruction of the Lodgepole Pine has opened an area to sun and air. And, indeed, these dead forests of the Tenaya region and Matterhorn Canyon take on a certain majesty at times, by moonlight or under a leaden sky, when they seem the ghosts of ages long gone by.

I must own, too, that when I remember a stand of Lodgepole Pine in the Upper Lyell Basin of the Merced River, I almost retract my cavilings. Tall and well proportioned, the bark a glowing yellow-brown instead of the customary depressing, lifeless gray, they greet the morning sun, as it surmounts those sharp peaks of the Lyell group, with a freshness of color against the blue Sierra sky that is truly delightful.

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