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Ponderosa pine
Ponderosa Pine. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hucke, Flickr Creative Commons
I have to admit that I love getting a holiday tree during this time of year. I love the whole process: going to pick it out, deciding which is the “perfect” one, struggling to get it straight in my tree stand, putting on the colorful lights, and remembering all my friends and family as I put ornaments and tinsel on the needles.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up having a Douglas fir tree in my house at the holidays so that is what I get as an adult. I know others that love Noble firs, blue spruces or pines. Thinking about the different variety of holiday trees makes me think about the different conifers that share the forests with our mighty coast redwoods and giant sequoias. Often we concentrate so much on our magnificent state trees that we look past the other trees that stand tall next to them.

The big question is how to tell these trees apart. So today we travel to the giant sequoia forests of the Sierra Nevada to introduce you to the great white fir, sugar pine and ponderosa pine.

White Fir

These remarkable trees can be up to 200 feet tall and 6 feet across. Their needles are in a spiral on a shoot and sweep upward. Their cones are 6 to 12 centimeters long and rounded on top. They make wonderful Christmas trees and have a delightful smell.

White Fir
Photo Credit: F.F. Richards, Flickr Creative Commons

Sugar Pine

These trees are known for their cones, which can be up to 12 inches long. They can also grow to be over 200 feet tall and between 400-500 years old. They have long, thin needles that are bundled in groups of five.

Sugar pine
Photo Credit: Laura Camp, Flickr Creative Commons

Ponderosa Pine

This is one of my favorite trees and it’s easily recognizable by its bark. It has an orangey-reddish bark that looks kind of like large puzzle pieces put together. Ponderosa pines can grow up to 160 feet tall and live for 600 years. They are probably most noticeable for their distinct smell. Stick your nose in a crevice in the bark and you get a whiff of sweet butterscotch or vanilla.

Ponderosa pine bark
Photo Credit: Jar, Flickr Creative Commons

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About Deborah Zierten

Deborah joined the League's staff in 2013 as the Education & Interpretation Manager. She brings with her extensive experience teaching science, developing curriculum and connecting kids to the natural world.


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