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Pinus contorta

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Pinus contorta

Pinus contorta
lodgepole pine; shore pine
Pinus contorta subsp. contorta in Anacortes Community Forest Lands, Washington
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

Pinus contorta, with the common names lodgepole pine and shore pine, and also known as twisted pine,[2] and contorta pine,[2] is a common tree in western North America.[3] It is common near the ocean shore and in dry montane forests to the subalpine, but is rare in lowland rain forests.[4][5] Like all pines (member species of the genus Pinus), it is an evergreen conifer.


  • Subspecies 1
  • Description 2
    • Needles and buds 2.1
    • Cones 2.2
  • Ecology 3
    • Threats 3.1
  • Uses 4
    • Construction 4.1
      • Native American tipis 4.1.1
    • Medicinal 4.2
    • Cultivation 4.3
    • Emblem 4.4
  • Invasive species 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


There are four subspecies of Pinus contorta, and one of them is sometimes considered to have two varieties.[6] The subspecies are sometimes treated at the rank of variety.[2][7][8]


Depending on subspecies, Pinus contorta grows as an evergreen shrub or tree. The shrub form is krummholz and is approximately 1 to 3 m (3.3 to 9.8 ft) high. The thin and narrow-crowned tree is 40 to 50 m (130 to 160 ft) high and can achieve up to 2 m (6.6 ft) in diameter at chest height.[17] The murrayana subspecies is the tallest. The crown is rounded and the top of the tree is flattened. In dense forests, the tree has a slim, conical crown. The formation of twin trees is common in some populations in British Columbia. The elastic branches stand upright or overhang and are difficult to break. The branches are covered with short shoots that are easy to remove.[5][18][19]

The species name is contorta because of the twisted, bent pines found at coastal areas and the tree's twisted needles.[12][20][21] Pinus contorta is occasionally known under several English names: black pine, scrub pine, and coast pine.[22][23] P. contorta subsp. latifolia will hybridise with the closely related Jack pine (Pinus banksiana).

Needles and buds

The needles are 4 to 8 cm (1.6 to 3.1 in) long in fascicles of two, alternate on twigs. The female cones are 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.8 in) long with sharp-tipped scales.

The egg-shaped growth buds are reddish-brown and between 20 and 30 mm (0.79 and 1.18 in) long. They are short pointed, slightly rotated, and very resinous. Spring growth starts in beginning of April and the annual growth is completed by early July. The dark and mostly shiny needles are pointed and 4 to 8 cm (1.6 to 3.1 in) long and 0.9 to 2 mm (0.035 to 0.079 in) wide. The needle edge is weak to clearly serrated. The needles are in pairs on short shoots and rotated about the shoots' longitudinal axes. In Alberta above 2,000 m (6,600 ft), 1 to 5 needles occur per short shoot. A population with a high proportion of three-needled short shoots occurs in the Yukon. Needles live an average of four to six years, with a maximum of 13 years.[18]


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 variation in their serotiny has been correlated with wildfires and mountain pine beetle attacks.[24] The cones have prickles on the scales.


P. contorta subsp. latifolia forest 23 years before (above) and 10 years after (below) the Yellowstone fires of 1988

Pinus contorta is a fire-dependent species, requiring wildfires to maintain healthy populations of diverse ages. The bark of the lodgepole pine is fairly thin, minimizing the tree's defense to fire; however, the heat of these closed-cone pine forest rejuvenating fires open the cones to release the seeds. This allows the species to regenerate and maintain its place in the forest habitat.[25]

Excessive wildfire prevention disrupts the fire ecology. The stands are usually so densely populated that the trees self-thin, or out-compete each other, leaving dead trees standing. These become a dry ladder fuel that can accelerate the fire to the crown of living trees. When the fire reaches the crowns of the trees, it can jump from tree to tree and becomes relatively unstoppable.

The natural fire regime for this species is primarily driven by climate. The fires occur most often after years of drought. Pinus contorta 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 is rare. Thus, infrequent but severe fires dominate this species.[25]

An example of the climate that plays a huge role in the fire regime of Pinus contorta 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 (AMO) and El Nino (ENSO). A combination of these oscillations 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.[26]

A cluster of pollen-bearing male cones at Mount San Antonio

Suillus tomentosus, a fungus, produces specialized structures called tuberculate ectomycorrhizae with the roots of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia). These structures have been shown to be the location of concentrations of nitrogen-fixing bacteria which contribute a significant amount of nitrogen to tree growth and allow the pines to colonize nutrient-poor sites.[27][28]


This species is attacked by blue stain fungus (Grosmannia clavigera), distributed by the mountain pine beetle from its mouth.

A study released in 2011 concluded that Pinus contorta could experience significant reductions in distribution due to climate change by the late 21st century.[29][30]


Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana near Three Fingered Jack in the Cascade Range in Oregon


Tree plantations of Pinus contorta have been planted extensively in Norway and Sweden for forestry, such as timber uses.

Native American tipis

Lodgepole pine is named for its common use as structural poles for the Native American tipi shelter. A typical tipi is constructed using 15 to 18 pines. The long, straight, and lightweight characteristics of the species made it ideal for horse transport in nomadic Plains buffalo hunting cultures. Tribes made long journeys across the Great Plains to secure lodgepole pines that only grew in mountainous areas. In Minnesota, other species such as red pine would be used in tipis, though they were generally thicker, heavier, and more cumbersome to transport than Pinus contorta.

Pinus contorta is still used by many today for erecting tipis on American Indian reservations, at powwows, and at private homes. The trees may be harvested for tipi poles in U.S. National Forests, provided the harvester secured a permit to cut living trees for ceremonial or traditional purposes. The Bighorn Mountains, the Black Hills, and the Medicine Bow Mountains are popular tipi pole harvesting areas for Native Americans living on Plains Indians reservations in North and South Dakota, and immigrant tipi enthusiasts.


The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and of California used different parts of the plant internally and externally as a traditional medicine for various ailments.[31]


Pinus contorta is cultivated as an ornamental tree by the horticulture industry. Plant nurseries grow Pinus contorta subsp. contorta and Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana for use in traditional and wildlife gardens, and as smaller selections of the native plant for natural landscaping. The Shore pine's (ssp. contorta) smaller varieties and cultivars are also used in container gardening, including as large bonsai specimens.

Cultivars of this species include:

  • Chief Joseph, a dwarf variety of Pinus contorta var. latifolia grown for its yellow winter needles.
  • Spaan's Dwarf, a dwarf variety of Pinus contorta var. contorta that grows wider than it grows tall.


Lodgepole pine is the Provincial tree of Alberta, Canada.

Invasive species

Pinus contorta is a serious invasive species of wilding conifer in New Zealand, along with several other western North American pine species. It is listed on the National Pest Plant Accord and is prohibited from sale, commercial propagation, and distribution.


  1. ^ Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Pinus contorta. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "USDA GRIN Taxonomy". 
  3. ^ 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.  
  4. ^ Sullivan, Steven. K. (2015). "Pinus contorta". Wildflower Search. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  5. ^ a b Giblin, David (Editor) (2015). "Pinus contorta". WTU Herbarium Image Collection. Burke Museum, University of Washington. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  6. ^ Conifer Specialist Group (1998). Pinus contorta var. bolanderi. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  7. ^ "Pinus contorta in Flora of North America @". 
  8. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". 
  9. ^ "Jepson Herbarium: Jepson Flora Project: Jepson eFlora: Pinus contorta subsp. bolanderi". 
  10. ^ Syn: Pinus contorta subsp. contorta var. bolanderi
  11. ^ "Calflora: Pinus contorta ssp. bolanderi". 
  12. ^ a b c Farjon, Aljos (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers 2. Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. pp. 654–655.  
  13. ^ "Calflora: Pinus contorta ssp. contorta". 
  14. ^ "Calflora: Pinus contorta ssp. murrayana". 
  15. ^ "Pinus contorta". PLANTS Database. United States Department of Agriculture; Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  16. ^ Johnson, Kershaw; MacKinnon, Pojar (1995). Plants of the Western Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland. Edmonton AB: Lonepine Publishing. p. 27.  
  17. ^ "Pinus contorta". Flora of North America. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  18. ^ a b Schütt, Weisgerber; Schuck, Lang; Stimm, Roloff (2008). Lexikon der Nadelbäume. Hamburg, Germany: Nikol. pp. 365–367.  
  19. ^ Klinkenberg, Brian (Editor) (2014). "Pinus contorta". E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  20. ^ "Plants and Trees: lodgepole pine". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  21. ^ "Pinus contorta var. contorta : Shore Pine". Oregon State University. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  22. ^ "Forests of Crater Lake National Park: Lodgepole Pine (Pinus Contorta)". Crater Lake Institute. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  23. ^ "Index of Species Information: Pinus contorta var. contorta". Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  24. ^ Feduck, Mike. "The genetic basis of cone serotiny in Pinus contorta as a function of mixed-severity and stand-replacement fire regimes". bioRxiv. Retrieved 15 September 2015. 
  25. ^ a b Schoennagel, Tania; Thomas Veblen (2004). "The Interaction of Fire, Fuels and Climate across Rocky Mountain Forests". BioScience 54 (7): 661–76.  
  26. ^ Kauffman, J. Boone (August 2004). "Death Rides the Forest: Perceptions of Fire, Land Use and Ecological Restoration of Western Forests" (PDF). Conservation Biology 18 (4): 878–82.  
  27. ^ Paul, L.R.; Chapman, B.K.; Chanway, C.P. (2007). "Nitrogen Fixation Associated with Suillus tomentosus Tuberculate Ectomycorrhizae on Pinus contorta var. latifolia". Annals of Botany 99 (6): 1101–1109.  
  28. ^ Chapman, W.K.; Paul, L.R. (2012). "Evidence that Northern Pioneering Pines with Tuberculate Mycorrhizae are Unaffected by Varying Soil Nitrogen Levels" (PDF). Microbial Ecology 64 (4): Open Access.  
  29. ^ Coops, Nicholas C.; Waring, Richard H. (March 2011). "A process-based approach to estimate lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.) distribution in the Pacific Northwest under climate change". Climatic Change 105 (1–2): 313–328.  
  30. ^ Rudolf, John Collins (28 February 2011). "Climate Change Takes Toll on the Lodgepole Pine". Green: A Blog About Energy and the Environment. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  31. ^ "results of search". 

External links

  • (lodgepole pine)Pinus contortaUSDA Plants Profile for
  • Pinus contortaJepson eFlora treatment of
  • Pinus contortaUSDA FS: Silvics of Trees of North America:
  • University of Wisconsin: Lodgepole forest webpage
  • Pinus contortaVirginia Tech dendrology website:
  • Guardian (U.K.) article: "Plague of beetles raises climate change fears for American beauty"
  • — U.C. Photo galleryPinus contorta
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