pinus-ponderosaCommon name: ponderosa pine

Scientific name: Pinus ponderosa

Native American names: hwa:l (Hualapai tribe) [1]

Plant family: Pinacea

Description: The ponderosa pine is an evergreen tree with a long trunk and high short crown, averaging 106 cm in diameter and 50 m in height in maturity. The male cones are yellow small clusters and the golden brown female cones are on average 4 inches in length and contain short, sharp, outwardly curved prickles at the tips of the cone scales.[2] The tree needles are 10-20 cm long in bundles of 3 and the bark is scaly, cinnamon colored and smells of vanilla in the hot sun.[3]

pinus-ponderosa2Habitat and range: Pinus ponderosa is found inland in the Pacific Northwest Coast Range, as well as in the dry, open sites west of the Cascades.[3] Throughout the U.S. the ponderosa is currently present in the western half of the country in mountain and plateau regions at elevations between 5,700 and 8,900 ft.[2]

Historical and contemporary uses: The ponderosa pine lumber is valued for products today such as poles, building lumber, fuel and furniture and traditionally to create dugout canoes, boats, lodge poles, snowshoes, and roof timber.[4] The trunk bark was peeled off by the Haida tribe and used as splints for injured limbs.[3] The bark was also used to make shelters as well as a building material for more-permanent structures.[5] The ponderosa pine pitch was used by the Sechelt tribe for waterproofing, often for canoes and baskets, by the Saanich tribe as an adhesive to fasten arrowheads to shafts, and by the Lower Stl’atl’imx as a glue and waterproofing coating for their Indian-hemp fishing nets. The pitch was also used medicinally by many tribes including the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuxalk, Haida, Tsimshian and Tlingit, by treating cuts and small wounds with the pitch as a salve or ointment, creating a poultice from the pitch to treat heart pain and rheumatism, or preparing a tea with the pitch to treat tuberculosis.[3] The long ponderosa pine needles had a variety of uses including, insulation for underground storage pits, a ceremonial emetic to induce vomiting, and a decoction or tea of needles consumed to treat coughs and fever.[2]  The root extract of the ponderosa is used to create a blue dye and the root fibers were used for basketry.[6] Finally, the seeds from the ponderosa pine are consumed like nuts and stored for winter consumption, often dried, powdered and made into small cakes.[7]

[1] The Hualapai Tribe Website.

[2] Mindy Pratt, Jim Browns, Roger Banner, and Allen Rasmussen. Range Plants of Utah. College of Natural Resources, Utah State University. 2002.

[3] Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, 2004.

[4] Coville, Frederick V. 1904 Wokas, a Primitive Food of the Klamath Indians. Smithsonian Institution.

[5] Hedges, Ken 1986 Santa Ysabel Ethnobotany. San Diego Museum of Man Ethnic Technology

[6] Baker, Marc A. 1981 The Ethnobotany of the Yurok, Tolowa and Karok Indians of Northwest California. Humboldt State University, M.A. Thesis.

[7] Turner, Nancy J., R. Bouchard and Dorothy I.D. Kennedy 1980 Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington. Victoria. British Columbia Provincial Museum. (Photos: