Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa ) photographed by James Ellingboe. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.
The stately ponderose pine (Pinus ponderosa) inhabits the dry vegetation zones east of the Cascade crest. This drought and fire-resistant tree is found from sea level to 4000 feet, mostly along the eastern slopes of the Cascades, east into the Okanagan, and south in the Blue Mountains. It is identified by its short thick needles in bundles of three per fascicle and its purple male flowers and cones.
While ponderosa pine may dominate the vegetation, it is accompanied by a diverse array of other plants, depending on the site. Trembling aspen, water birch, and Douglas maple are companions in riparian areas, while juniper, firs, larches, and white pines appear in drier sites. Herbaceous species that grow in drier Ponderosa pine habitat include yarrow, balsamroot, silky lupine, and orange arnica. Idaho fescue, Rocky mountain fescue, and cheatgrass are grasses found alongside these pines. The driest subzones give way to bluebunch wheat grass.
Ponderosa pine habitat supports wildlife ranging from small birds like the Clark’s Nutcracker and Pygmy Chipmunk all the way up to large herbivores like Mule and White-tailed Deer, Bighorn sheep, and Rocky Mountain Elk. Raptors (eagles and hawks), snakes, rabbits, and bats are also inhabitants of this zone. The open parklands of this habitat allow the larger animals to move freely in the wintertime, and the low snow cover and vegetation provides abundant food sources for wildlife during this time. These vegetation zones are valued less for timber value than for cattle range, winter wildlife habitat, and recreational uses such as hiking and hunting.