Western white pine (Pinus monticola) was once broadly distributed throughout the Northern Rockies, California, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. In 1910 a shipment of nursery stock to Vancouver BC from France introduced white pine blister rust to the Pacific Northwest and within about 12 years western white pine populations were depleted. Requiring two hosts (five-needled pines and currants or gooseberries) and five spore stages to complete its life cycle, this rust usually kills infected trees quickly. However, some western white pines have a degree of resistance to white pine blister rust. Today western white pine is found in fir and spruce forests at middle to subalpine elevations.
With a crown that is often raggedy looking, western white pines can grow up to 250 feet in height and 5 feet in diameter. The leaves (needles) are blue-green, flexuous, from 2 1/2 to 4 inches in length and are borne in bundles of five. The cones are green and erect at first becoming pendulous and reddish brown with maturity. Occurring near the treetop, the cones are not retained on the tree once mature. Long (6″ to 10″) and cylindrical, western white pine cones are usually slightly curved and do not have prickles on the scales, which are slightly resinous. Initially smooth, the bark becomes scaly with age and is dark grey to nearly black with a cinnamon color underneath. The cinnamon color shows through in the ridges.
Western white pine wood is light, both in color and weight, yet relatively strong. The light color of the wood gives this pine its common name. The wood does not warp or shrink and is free from resin and decay. These characteristics make it a valuable lumber tree for window sashes, doors, siding, finish work, window blinds, shutters, shelving, etc. Almost all matchsticks are made from western white pine.
Indigenous peoples used a tea made from western white pine bark to treat stomach disorders, tuberculosis, and rheumatism. Applied externally the tea was used for cuts and sores. Small canoes and baskets were constructed from sheets of western white pine bark. The pitch was a waterproofing material.
Western white pine was discovered by the Scottish explorer-botanist David Douglas. It is also commonly called Idaho, fingercone or mountain pine among other names. The species name, monticola, derives from the Latin and means “inhabiting mountains”.
These specimens were growing along the Kings Creek Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park (CA).