As we get into camping season, I want to take some time to get familiar with the creatures and plant life around us.
Lodgepole pine trees, or Pinus contorta, are one of the most populous conifer trees in the northwestern U.S.
In Idaho, lodgepoles live on 2.3 million acres, though pine beetles and deforestation of decades past have upset the healthy balance of young and old trees that they evolved over millennia. Still, they’re a hardy species, with one particularly impressive trick: their cones only open to release seeds when triggered by heat, so they’re quick to repopulate after forest fires.
Once seeded, they grow in dense thickets that monopolize growing space, competing with other lodgepoles and other species. That’s why you almost always see them in tall, straight, and graceful clusters.
Lodgepole cones don't open until exposed to heat, which gives them the advantage of sowing quickly after fires. (Darrell Gulin / Getty)
Here’s how you can identify a lodgepole:
- Named for its use in building shelter, the lodgepoles are significantly straighter than other pine species.
- They average between 50 and 100 feet in height at maturity, but are quite slim at one to two feet in width.
- Needles grow to an average two inches in length, and in pairs.Cones are egg-shaped, with a single prickle on each scale.