THE WESTERN YELLOW PINE.
P. ponderosa, Laws.
The Western yellow pine forms on the Colorado Plateau the most extensive pine forests of the American continent. Mountain slopes, high mesas, dry canyon sides, even swamps, if they occur at elevations above twenty-five hundred feet, furnish suitable habitats for this amazing species, in some of its varying forms. From British Columbia and the Black Hills it follows the mountains through the Coast Ranges, Sierras, and the Great Conti nental Divide, to the highlands of Texas and into Mexico, forming the most extensive pine forests in the world. All sorts of construction work draw upon this wonderful natural supply of timber, from the droughty western counties of the Dakotas, Nebraska and Texas, to the Pacific Coast.
The typical tree has thick plates of cinnamon-red bark, a massive trunk, five to eight feet in diameter, one hundred to two hundred feet high, with many short, thick, forked branches in a spire-like head. In arid regions the trunk is shorter and the head becomes broad and round-topped. Near the timber line and in swamps, the trees are stunted and the bark is nearly black.
The leaves of this pine tree are two or three in a bundle, stout, dark yellow-green, five to eleven inches long, decid uous during their third season. Their color has given the name to the species, for the wood is not yellow, but light red, with nearly white sap-wood.
On the way to the Yosemite, the traveler meets the yellow pine—splendid tracts of it—with the giant sugar pine, in open park-like areas, where each individual tree has room to manifest the noble strength of its tall shaft.
The flowers appear in May, brightening the even color of the shiny leaves with their pink or brown staminate clusters two or three inches wide. The crimson pistillate cones hide at the ends of the branches, lengthening into fruits three to ten inches in length, and half as wide.
Strong, re-curving tips, armed with slender prickles, are seen in the scales of the reddish-brown cones that fall soon after they spread and liberate the winged seeds. These are produced in abundance, are scattered widely by the wind, and accomplish the renewal of these mountain forests.
The bark is usually very thick at the bases of the trunks, reaching eighteen inches on the oldest trees. With this cloak wrapped about its living cambium, the yellow pine is able, better than most trees, to survive . a sweeping forest fire.
Botanists have found P. ponderosa extremely variable, and they quarrel among themselves about species and variety, for the tree endures many climates, adapts itself to varying conditions and develops a type for each habitat and region. In old lake basins on the Sierra slopes, "variety Jeffreyi, Vasey," is the name given to the gigantic yellow pine, which there finds food and moisture in abundance and reaches its finest proportions and its greatest lumber value.
In the Rocky Mountains, "variety scopulorum, En gelm.," is the type. "But all its forms can be traced to a common origin and so the parent species stands; and despite man's devastating axe the yellow pine flourishes in the drenching rains and fog of the northern coast at the level of the sea, in the snow-laden blasts of the moun tains, in the white glaring sunshine of the interior plateaus and plains, and on the borders of mirage-haunted deserts, volcanoes, and lava beds,—waving its bright plumes in the hot winds undaunted, blooming every year for cen turies, and tossing big ripe cones among the cinders and ashes of nature's hearths." (John Muir.)