Among the many native Colorado trees, the Ponderosa pine stands out from the crowd as one of the most recognizable. This is because of their distinct flattop appearance though also for their unique smell. They can be found covering most of the Rocky Mountains and are hearty survivors.
The Ponderosa pine tree is one of the only breeds of conifer that can thrive in regions of drought and high altitude, even up to 10,000 feet in certain locations. Most trees wilt and wither under the intense heat of the sun and lack of proper nutrients in high altitudes, yet these pines can withstand a harsh and intimidating environment.
Because of their adaptability, the Ponderosas are often found gracing the western and southern faces of the Rocky Mountains; where not many other types of trees can be found. Although this tree can endure more than most others, the Ponderosa Pine fares best in conditions with moderate temperatures and moist soil.
One of the more recognizable traits of the Ponderosa pine is its wonderful scent. Especially noticeable on hotter days, these trees have a special sap beneath their bark that creates a very distinct aroma. Candles, air fresheners and many other fragrance products mimic this delicious odor.
Perhaps what is even more impressive than the tree’s ability to survive in remote conditions and smell amazing is the longevity and size. These trees can grow to be 400 years old and sometimes tower over 100 feet tall. Currently, the oldest known Ponderosa pine in Colorado is 850 years old, with the oldest on record at over 1000 years.
Despite their ability to live for centuries, these trees are not found in as much abundance as they were several years ago. With the recent fires in the Colorado area as well as the many different bugs that prey on these trees, the Ponderosa pine population has greatly decreased over time.
When these trees are destroyed, they are difficult to repopulate. Like all conifers, these pines are equipped with cones and needles, which generally come in bunches of two or three. Once growing they are strong however their seeds have a fairly difficult time germinating and growing.
The trees that do take root, though, are extremely durable. The root systems of the Ponderosa pine grow both horizontally and vertically. The horizontal systems often extend hundreds of feet across the ground while the vertical roots can grow to more than 30 feet; useful for gathering moisture, even in a drought.
Thankfully the Ponderosa Pine is not endangered. This breed has triumphed with supernatural strength facing all kinds of adversity from Mother Nature. This is fortunate, seeing as many different kinds of wildlife are dependent on the Ponderosa pine for survival. One such animal is the Abert’s squirrel, which would all but cease to exist without the pines. Truly a tree among trees, the Ponderosa pine is certainly one of Colorado’s best smelling and most popular breeds of conifer.
By Jason Writz