Know Your White Pines!

All white pines have 5 needles per bundle.  The Tahoe region is home to three white pine species: sugar pine, western white pine and whitebark pine.  In the Lake Tahoe Basin, white pines serve many important functions such as providing food and habitat for wildlife, stabilizing snow and soils, increasing forest diversity and health, and improving resistance to wildfire.  They also offer shade and scenic beauty in our surroundings.  Each tree is special, so how to tell them apart?

Sugar Pine

Sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) are the world's largest pine species. They often grow to over 100 feet tall.  They are most easily identified when carrying their enormous cones. The cones are often more than 14 inches long and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Sugar pines typically grow between 3,000 and 7,500 feet in elevation.  Sugar pine sap is sweet and edible.  3-5% of sugar pines possess major gene resistance to blister rust.

Western White Pine

Western white pines (Pinus monticola) grow from 8,000 feet to just below timberline. They look much like sugar pines, but are distinguished by their checkerboard bark and smaller cones.  About 3-5% of western whites possess major gene resistance to blister rust.

Whitebark Pine

Whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) occupy the highest elevations, where they often grow in clumps of two to five gnarled, weather-beaten trees above timberline.  Whitebark seeds are an important food source for the Clark's nutcracker; the birds store the seeds in caches they may not return to and the seeds sprout and grow together.  Some whitebark exhibit defenses to the blister rust fungus, but no known inheritable resistance has been found.  Whitebark pine warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but is precluded from being listed as endangered due to lack of funding for restoration.