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Lodgepole Pine
Pinus contorta subsp. contorta in Anacortes Community Forest Lands, Washington
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Pinus
Subgenus: Pinus
Species: P. contorta
Binomial name
Pinus contorta
Distribution map:
Pinus contorta subsp. contorta
Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia
Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana

Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) is a common tree in western North America.[2] Like all pines, it is evergreen.

There are three subspecies, one of them with two varieties. All the four taxa are sometimes treated at the rank of variety[3][4].

  • Pinus contorta subsp. contorta (Shore Pine) - Pacific Coast, southern Alaska to California
    • Pinus contorta subsp. contorta var. contorta (syn. P. contorta var. contorta, Shore Pine) - Pacific Coast, Alaska to northwest California
    • Pinus contorta subsp. contorta var. bolanderi (syn. P. contorta var. bolanderi, Mendocino Shore Pine) - Mendocino, California Coast (Near Threatened by fires, development and overland vehicles.[5])
  • Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana (syn. P. contorta var. murrayana, Tamarack Pine or Sierra Lodgepole Pine) - Cascade Range, Sierra Nevada and adjacent mountain ranges, Washington south to northern Baja California
  • Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia (syn. P. contorta var. latifolia, Lodgepole Pine) - Rocky Mountains, Yukon to Colorado, Saskatchewan Aspen parkland and boreal forest.[6]

This tree can be 30–40 m tall, but is often much smaller, particularly subsp. contorta, while subsp. murrayana can be larger, to 50 m. The leaves are needle-like, paired and often twisted, and 3–7 cm long. The 3–7 cm cones often need exposure to high temperatures (such as from forest fires) in order to open and release their seeds, though in subsp. murrayana they open as soon as they are mature. The cones have prickles on the scales.

Lodgepole pine is named for its common use in the American Indian tepee lodge. A typical tepee is constructed with 15-18 lodgepole pines. The long, straight, and lightweight characteristics of the species made it ideal for horse transport in nomadic buffalo hunting cultures. Tribes made long journeys across the plains to secure lodgepole pines that only grew in mountainous areas. In Minnesota, other species such as red pine would be used in tepees, though they were generally thicker, heavier, and more cumbersone to transport than lodgepole pine. Many people still use lodgepole pine today for erecting tepees at private homes, on Indian Reservations, or powwows. The pines may be harvested for tepee poles on National Forests, provided the harvester secures a permit to cut lives trees for ceremonial or traditional purposes. The Bighorn Mountains, the Black Hills, and the Snowy Range of Wyoming are popular tepee pole harvesting areas for tepee enthusiasts and American Indians living on plains reservations in North and South Dakota.

It is occasionally known under several English names: Black Pine, Scrub Pine, and Coast Pine. The species name contorta arises from the twisted, bent pines found in the coastal area.

Lodgepole Pine is the Provincial tree of Alberta, Canada. Lodgepole Pine will hybridise with the closely related Jack Pine.

Pinus contorta is a serious invasive plant in New Zealand. The species has also been planted extensively in Norway and Sweden for use in forestry.



Blue stain fungus, Grosmannia clavigera, attacks this species from the mouth of the Mountain Pine Beetle.

Fire Regime

The lodgepole pine as a species is a very dependent on fire as a mode of replacing itself. The fire regime for this species is primarily driven by climate. The fires occur most often after years of drought. Lodgepole Pine occurs from the upper montane to the subalpine region. These types of forests experience a lot of moisture in the form of snow in the winter due to their altitude. The density of the tree stand also prohibits the establishment of an understory. With all of that being said, the likelihood of a surface fire occurring are rare. Thus, infrequent, high severity fires dominate this species[7]. An example of the climate that plays a huge role in the fire regime of the lodgepole pine is quite complex. There are three different oscillations that play a major role in droughts. These are the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation and El Nino. A combination of these oscillation being in effect (+) or not in effect (-) have a global effect on the water available to these forests. So when the AMO +, ENSO – and PDO -, there is going to be a drought and likely a severe subalpine fire[8]. The lodgepole is a fire friendly tree. The bark of the lodgepole pine is fairly thin, minimizing the defense the tree has to fire. The way that these stands regenerate is so densely populated that they self thin, or out compete, each other leaving dead trees in the stand. These dead trees often fall and become a dry ladder fuel to accelerate the fire to the crown of the tree. When the fire reaches the crowns of the trees, it can jump from tree to tree and becomes relatively unstoppable. These stand replacing fires are what the lodgepole pine relies on to be able to regenerate in the post burn area[9].


  1. ^ Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Pinus contorta. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  2. ^ Moore, Gerry; Kershner, Bruce; Craig Tufts; Daniel Mathews; Gil Nelson; Spellenberg, Richard; Thieret, John W.; Terry Purinton; Block, Andrew (2008). National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America. New York: Sterling. p. 91. ISBN 1-4027-3875-7. 
  3. ^ Flora of North America
  4. ^ GRIN Taxonomy for Plants
  5. ^ Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Pinus contorta var. bolanderi. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  6. ^ Johnson, Kershaw, MacKinnon, Pojar (1995), Plants of the Western Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland, Edmonton AB: Lonepine publishing, p. 27, ISBN 1-55105-058-7 
  7. ^ Schoennagel, Tania, and Thomas Veblen. "The Interaction of Fire, Fuels and Climate across Rocky Mountain Forests." BioScience 54.7 (2004): 661-76. Print
  8. ^ Kauffman, J. Boone. "Death Rides the Forest: Perceptions of Fire, Land Use and Ecological Restoration of Western Forests." Conservation Biology 18.4 (2004): 878-82. Aug. 2004. Web. 24 Feb. 2010. <>.
  9. ^ Schoennagel, Tania, and Thomas Veblen. "The Interaction of Fire, Fuels and Climate across Rocky Mountain Forests." BioScience 54.7 (2004): 661-76. Print

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