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Pinus contorta, or lodgepole pine, is a common North American gymnosperm of the family Pinaceae. In Canada it is native to the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan and, in the US, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and California (USDA 2016).
There are five varieties of lodgepole pine found in different geographical regions: the shore pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta) that typically inhabits coastal areas, the Sierra lodgepole (Pinus contorta var. murrayana) which is found in the Sierra Nevada, the Rocky Mountain lodgepole (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) which is native to the Rocky Mountain range, the Bolander pine (Pinus contorta var. bolanderi) which is found in parts of California, and the Yukon pine (Pinus contorta var. yukonensis) of the Yukon Territories (Lotan and Critchfield 2004; USDA 2016).
Pinus contorta is very adaptable and can grow in many different environments, from rocky high elevations to sandy coastlines (British Columbia, 2016). While lodgepole pines are not considered to be invasive, they are one of the first plants to colonize an area after a fire or in cases of slope instability and floods (NPS 2016). Lodgepole pines tolerate a range of growing conditions and a wide variety of soils if they are well drained, although they prefer soils that are moist.
Lodgepole pines are most identifiable by their needles and cones. They typically have dark green needles that come in pairs and are about 1 to 3 inches long. Reproduction can usually start about 510 years into the life of the tree. The male cones are small and grow in bunches at the tips of the branches. The female cones, which take about 2 years to mature, will sometimes open once fertilized to release the seeds, or they can stay closed (a process called serotiny) until they are under high heat from a forest fire. The female cones are egg shaped, about 2 inches in length, and have a very strong outer protective layer (Lotan and Critchfield 2004). Pinus contorta can live up to 200 years and it can take up to 2 years for reproduction. The trees tend to be about 50 to 75 feet tall and are usually very thin, with an 8 to 12 inch trunk diameter and a narrow crown (NPS 2016). The species is shade intolerant, meaning that any branches that are left in the shade and do not receive sunlight will wither and fall off the tree. This is why the branches of lodgepole pines often do not start until higher up on the tree when growing around other trees. The bark is thin, reddish brown to grey, and finely scaled (British Columbia 2016).