|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 years.
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 book 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|