Different Kinds of Pine Trees in California


Of the 35 species of pines that grow in North America, over a dozen are native trees in California. Many of these pines grow in the mountainous parts of the state, while some are strictly coastal species, existing in the forests along the Pacific Ocean. California’s pines include one with a very distinct cone, another with characteristic bark and one that grows straight and very tall.

Knobcone Pine

  • The knobcone pine (Pinus attenuata) takes its name from its pinecones, which are oblong, 4 to 5 inches in length and possess scales that resemble knobs. The knobcone pine grows in many parts of California, preferring elevations between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. The tree exists in the dry conditions on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range, the San Bernardino Mountains and other ranges such as those on the coast in Trinity County and Sonoma County. The knobcone pine grows to as tall as 100 feet in some instances, with most between 40 and 70 feet high. The tree has needles that can reach 7 inches long, which grow in groups of threes on the branches. The bark is a dark gray shade on older trees and has many scaly ridges. The cones only open when exposed to the effects of fire, with some staying on the tree so long that the wood from the tree’s branches can grow over them.

Whitebark Pine

  • The whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) in California grow mostly in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While the white bark can grow up to 50 feet tall, many specimens are about the size of a big sprawling shrub. A tree that grows at altitudes from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, whitebark pine can take as long as 200 years to fully mature. The whitebark pine has needles in bundles of fives and produces 2.5-inch long cones. These cones will fall apart when they mature, allowing the seeds to scatter about. The whitebark pine has scaly grayish-white bark on older trees and a smoother creamy white to gray bark on younger specimens. The whitebark pine grows on the rocky slopes, in many cases forming stands of many trees in one area.

Western White Pine

  • The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service website calls the western white pine (Pinus monticola) one of the more “impressive” trees of the forest species. This is because the western white pine may grow as tall as 180 feet high and have a diameter approaching 4 feet. The western white pine can live to be 500 years old in some circumstances, and 300- and 400-year-old trees are common sights. In California, western white pine exists at elevations up to 10,000 feet, in the Sierras and in much of northern portions of the state. While the blue-green needles are only 2 to 4 inches long, the narrow, curved cones average 8 inches in length, with some as long as 15 inches, according to “Trees of North America.” The western white pine is an important lumber species and at one time, its wood went into the making of wooden matches.

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