Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Pinaceae (Pine)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:Western US
Habitat:sun; urban landscapes, parks
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:40 to 70 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: none NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information


Flowers are borne in structures called cones (strobili) with separate male and female cones on the same tree. Male (pollen) cones are rounded cylindrical, 3/8 to ½ inch long, typically reddish to purplish in color, in dense clusters at the base of new branchlets (candles) with the newly expanding bud just above. The female strobili form at the tips of the new candle and are small and egg shaped, ¼ to 3/8 inch long, reddish to bluish purple in color.

Leaves and bark: Leaf type: simple

[photo of needles] Leaves are needle-like, 5 to 8 inches long, in bundles of two or three that spiral up around the branch, stiff but wiry (difficult to snap), dark green in color, mostly straight to slightly twisted, the facing surfaces flattened or angled.

[photo of trunk] New twigs are orangish brown, a smooth surface turning scaly and grayish brown with age. Old bark has broad, scaly yellowish to orange-brown plates with dark furrows between.

photo of branch bud and 1-year-old cone] Branch buds are large, around 1 inch long, conical with a long sharp point and long, narrow scales with webby hairs and a resinous coating.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of 2-year-old cone] The fruit is a brown hard cone, small and egg-shaped, ½ inch long at end of first growing season, 3 to 6 inches long at maturity, the scales armored with a sharp spine.


Ponderosa Pine is the most widely distributed pine species in the lower 48 states, however Minnesota sits well east of its natural western geographic range. Mostly for cold hardiness reasons, it has only sparingly been utilized in our urban landscapes and has never been documented naturalized in the state. But it has been recognized that hardier genomes exist and successful plantings occasionally dot our urban landscape, and is the reason we add this species to our Minnesota field guide. While attaining heights of nearly 200 feet in its native range, in Minnesota it is rarely observed taller than 50 to 60'. It is distinguished from other Pinus species in the state by having much longer needles than other species, needles that are often bundled in threes, and the sharp spine on the cone scales.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Ramsey County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Jim - Mahtomedi
on: 2016-03-09 10:56:56

We have a large ponderosa on school property in a former oak savannah. My students would like to know when ponderosas were first introduced into Minnesota to get an idea of how our tree arrived and where its seed tree may be located. Thank you!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-03-10 06:51:27

Ponderosa pine is grown and sold in the nursery trade and is the likely origin of MN trees, but we don't know when that first started.

Posted by: Karen Langenfeld - Shoreview
on: 2020-12-10 22:09:44

We received a tree growing kit (a little biodegradable pot and seed disc) with a ponderosa pine seed as a gift from my husband's employer. If we get this seed started, is it OK to plan this in Minnesota? How far from the house should it be (as far as the neighbor's yard, perhaps? - maybe they wouldn't notice - JK) ;-). The spines look like they'd go through your foot... The cones are pretty, but I wouldn't want to step on one, either.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-12-11 06:08:33

Karen, if you do plant it, don't expect it to perform well. See the Notes section above.

Posted by: Julia Anna - Finlayson
on: 2023-06-04 12:01:40

I found a Ponderosa Pine growing naturally in the ditch of property I own in Finlayson, Minnesota. Needles are in clumps of 3, resin is super sticky and very difficult to remove from skin. The sap smells wonderful.

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