Monday, June 13, 2011

Ponderosa Pines

Ponderosa Pines are scaly, tall pine trees that often only have branches near the top. They are found in Northern Arizona, and other nearby places. They look like this:

Cool things I bet you didn’t know about Ponderosa Pines:

1. If you smell a Ponderosa pine (preferably between the crack in the bark, closer to the core of the tree), most people agree it smells like something sweet. I’ve heard everything from chocolate to vanilla to cupcakes to pecan pie. So next time you’re near a Ponderosa pine, smell it!

2. Did you know that fires are essential to a Ponderosa pine based ecology? There are a couple types of wildfires, and one is natural and good, and the other is bad. Without humans stopping wildfires (to protect property and people), most wildfires don’t get that tall. They burn the brush and ‘litter’ (dead branches, pine needles, etc.) underneath the trees, burn the lower branches of the trees, and kill smaller trees. They would naturally happen often enough that litter is pretty controlled under the trees. Killing the smaller trees would allow the bigger trees to keep growing and gain access to more nutrients. Without these natural fires, litter builds up under the trees, and the fueled fire can ‘climb’ the trees with the now-existent lower branches. The fire reaches the tops of the trees, creating a canopy fire. Since the trees are denser than usual, the fire can spread from tree to tree. And that’s how we have our unnatural forest fires that sterilize the area – Ponderosa pines probably won’t reappear for another hundred years.

Anyway, since fires are essential to a Ponderosa pine’s ecology, the Ponderosa is fire-resistant. When a fire comes nearby, the tree’s bark shoots out to create a protective layer around the tree. This is why the bark is originally scaly.

As a random side-note, Sequoias are also fire-resistant.

Fire-resistant bark!

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