Sugar Pine
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The sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) is the largest
and tallest species of pine in the world and it
grows in California and western Oregon.  In the
Sierra it grows amongst ponderosa and Jeffrey
pines and red and white fir on the western slope
between 4,500 and 7,500 feet in elevation.  
Sugar pines grow to heights of 250 feet tall
with diameters of up to 10 feet and are second
only to giant sequoias in their total volume of
wood.  Their cones are the longest in the world;
they can be up to 22 inches long and they dangle
like Christmas ornaments from the ends of the
pine's long limbs. Their limbs typically reach
lengths of 40+ feet.  Their needles are bluish
green, about three inches long, and are in
clusters of five.  Sugar pines may live 500-600

Native Americans harvested sugar pine nuts
which are about the size of a grain of corn.  They
also ate the sugary sap that exudes from wounds
on the pine's trunk, which is how the pine got its
name.  Famous conservationist, John Muir, wrote
that he liked this sap better than maple sugar.  
He also called the sugar pine the "noblest pine
yet discovered, surpassing all others not merely
in size but also in kingly beauty and majesty."

He goes on to describe the tree further in his
The Mountains of California:

"No lover of trees will ever forget his first
meeting with the Sugar Pine, nor will he
afterward need a poet to call him to "listen what
the pine-tree saith." In most pine-trees there is
a sameness of expression, which, to most people,
is apt to become monotonous; for the typical
spiry form, however beautiful, affords but little
scope for appreciable individual character. The
Sugar Pine is as free from conventionalities of
form and motion as any oak. No two are alike,
even to the most inattentive observer; and,
notwithstanding they are ever tossing out their
immense arms in what might seem most
extravagant gestures, there is a majesty and
repose about them that precludes all possibility
of the grotesque, or even picturesque, in their
general expression. They are the priests of
pines, and seem ever to be addressing the
surrounding forest. The Yellow Pine is found
growing with them on warm hillsides, and the
White Silver Fir on cool northern slopes; but,
noble as these are, the Sugar Pine is easily king,
and spreads his arms above them in blessing
while they rock and wave in sign of recognition.
The main branches are sometimes found to be
forty feet in length, yet persistently simple,
seldom dividing at all, excepting near the end;
but anything like a bare cable appearance is
prevented by the small, tasseled branchlets
that extend all around them; and when these
superb limbs sweep out symmetrically on all
sides, a crown sixty or seventy feet wide is
formed, which, gracefully poised on the summit
of the noble shaft, and filled with sunshine, is
one of the most glorious forest objects
conceivable. Commonly, however, there is a great
preponderance of limbs toward the east, away
from the direction of the prevailing winds.

"No other pine seems to me so unfamiliar and
self-contained. In approaching it, we feel as if in
the presence of a superior being, and begin to
walk with a light step, holding our breath. Then,
perchance, while we gaze awe-stricken, along
comes a merry squirrel, chattering and laughing,
to break the spell, running up the trunk with no
ceremony, and gnawing off the cones as if they
were made only for him; while the
carpenter-woodpecker hammers away at the
bark, drilling holes in which to store his winter
supply of acorns."

Unfortunately, the sugar pine, along with other
species of white pine, is susceptible to a fungus
called white pine blister rust which man
accidentally brought over from Europe in the
early 1900's.  One of the alternate hosts of this
fungus is a currant or gooseberry bush, and
starting in the 1930's foresters began to
remove currant and gooseberry bushes from
British Columbia to the central Sierra.  This
program had questionable success and now
efforts are largely concentrated on breeding
resistant sugar pines.
Sugar Pine near Grant Grove, Kings
Canyon National Park, CA
Sugar Pine drawing by John Muir
Can you spot my car in the above
picture?  This sugar pine is about 10
feet in diameter and is located near
the cabin I lived in near Grant Grove