Pines are unique amongst conifers, as their needles are clustered in definite numbers.

For those native to the Pacific Northwest, there are two-needled, three-needled and five-needled types, and indeed counting the number of needles is the first step in identifying a pine’s species.

Native Pine

Unique puzzle bark of Pinus ponderosa.

Every area of our region has its own distinct species of Pine – from the twisted shore pine found along the coast to the massively upward, bold yellow pine in vast open areas east of the Cascades.

Some are too gargantuan for the home garden and are best enjoyed in the wild or in urban parks and wild areas. Others can be kept pruned even as far as into a suitable bonsai specimen. Of the eight or nine species native to our region, there are several that are commonly available.

Five-needled Pines

Native Pine

Pinus monticola: Western White Pine

This is the bearer of the classic Pine Cone, and is probably the most widely distributed of our native pines, even though it is highly susceptible to the white pine blister-rust disease. Easy to grow, the needles are soft and the bark has a slightly raised checkerboard texture. Though it can easily reach fifty feet in a garden setting, it is adaptable to pruning and shaping and so can be kept smaller and so more adaptable to the home garden.

Three-needled Pines

Native Pine

Pinus ponderosa: Ponderosa Pine

This massive tree is highly recognizable with its five-inch long needles and bristly brown cones, sloughing puzzle bark, either standing alone or mixed with other conifers, mostly east of the Cascades; this is the Yellow pine that can grow up to two hundred feet with a maximum girth of fifteen to twenty feet! But there is also a strain of Pinus ponderosa that is native to the Willamette Valley, a little smaller in stature and more adaptable to our wetter weather. This is the one typically stocked in our nursery.

Two-needled Pines

Native Pine

Pinus contorta var. contorta: Shore Pine

This lowland variety is the western Shore Pine; found along the water in the San Juan Islands and along the coast of Washington and Oregon.

They are smallish trees, beautiful and sparse with tiny cones, often twisted and bent from the coastal winds, making them appear like oversized bonsai trees.

Native Pine

Pinus contorta: Lodgepole Pine vs. Pinus contorta var. murrayana: Murrayana Pine

The Lodgepole Pine and Murrayana Pine (Pinus contorta var. murrayana) are similar genetically, but look very different from each other.

The tall, straight matchstick form of the Lodgepole Pine can grow over 100’ in its native environment. It’s been used for centuries by northwest indigenous peoples for framing teepees and building lodges.

Murrayana Pine, or Sierra Pine – Pinus contorta var. murrayana is dwarfed and twisted like its coastal cousin in the face of harsh, high mountain wind and weather. It grows very slowly, around 1-2 inches per year, so it takes eons to gain any size. If removed from its subalpine habitat (legally with permits of course) and grown at lower elevations, it grows slightly faster (up to 4”/yr), and its scraggly look fills in gradually, but it never shoots up like a Lodgepole Pine.

Native Pine

Pinus contorta var. murrayana --- Right image: growing at subalpine elevation in the Wallowas.