Needles in groups of two )
Pine Family (Pinaceae)
Habitat: Montane on both sides of Continental Divide
Height: 5-20 m
Description: The lodgepole pine, along with the white spruce, make up the vast majority of eastern slope coniferous trees. It is easily identified at a distance by its arrow straight trunk, and its lack of branches on the lower trunk. On closer inspection, the needles form groups of two, unlike any other Canadian Rockies pine, and the cones are tightly sealed with a very hard wax. The needles are 2-5 cm long. During the late spring, the lodgepole releases immense amounts of pollen. Flicking a branch with your fingertip can release a yellow-green cloud. Often still ponds will be coloured by the huge accumulations of pollen settling on the surface.
The lodgepole pine grows in a very diverse range of conditions, from wet coastal rain forests to dry eastern slope hillsides. Botanists have separated the logepole pine into two subspecies, Pinus contorta contorta, or lodgepole pine and Pinus contorta latifolia or shore pine. Shore pine refers to the coastal variety while lodgepole pine is used for the inland form.
The light coloured cones of the lodgepole pine are exceedingly hard, being sealed with a hard resin. There may also be numerous sharp scales protruding from the cone surface, making for a prickly surface. The resin, which has a very high melting point, will often only melt at temperatures in excess of 45C (120 F). The male cones, which are small and inconspicuous, appear in mid to late June, and produce immense ammounts of pollen. Since the tree reproduces through wind pollination, the pine must produce a lot of pollen. So much pollen is produced, that everything in the mountains is coated with a fine layer of greeenish-yellow pollen. Quiet ponds may become completely yellow on the surface as this pollen floats quietly. Luckily, the pollen explosion lasts only a week or so, and soon the male cones dry out and fall off the plant.
Range: The lodgepole pine is strictly a western tree, growing from Alaska and the Yukon, throughout British Columbia and western Alberta, and south as far as Baha, California and east to South Dakota.
Lodgepole pine are a fire succession species, often beginning as pure stands following a recent fire. they are often associated with an understory of white spruce, juniper and bearberry. In spring, tiny calypso orchids take advantage of the acidic needle litter to create a pleasant splash of colour. they may also occur in mixed stands with trembling aspen, another fire adapted species.
Notes: The lodgepole pine is a fire adapted species. It's cones are sealed with a hard wax that will usually only open when the temperature reaches 45C (120F). Since it doesn't get that warm throughout the lodgepole pine's range, the cones will only open with the help of a forest fire. At the same time, they are a self pruner, shutting off the power to any branch that doesn't receive enough sunshine. This can be seen in the form of large numbers of dead branches along the lower part of the trunk. These dead branches are easily alighted, and in a way the lodgepole pine attracts forest fire. Through death comes life. For the same reason, entire stands are often the same height, simply because they were all born on the same day, the day the last forest fire came through.
Some cones will open on their own, and so you can see some smaller trees along the margins of taller stands. This adaptation to fire allows the lodgepole pine to persist where they would eventually be shaded out by other conifers like white and Engelmann spruce. Fires help clear out the competition.
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