Crooked branches distinguish lodgepole

You’ll recognize lodgepole pine by its slender, furrowed trunk and dark green evergreen needles growing in irregular tufts.

The trees can grow 30 feet to 90 feet tall, although the variety most often found along coastal shorelines here — shore pine — maxes out at 30 feet tall. It’s also distinguished by its crooked branches.The other variety here, which is found inland, is Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine or black pine. Its scientific name is Pinus contorta var. latifoli.

The shore pine grows from sea level to 2,000 feet, while the inland variety can be found at 1,600 feet to 12,000 feet.

The other two varieties are Sierra lodgepole pine and Mendocino White Plains lodgepole pine, which grow in the Sierra Nevada range and California.

The needles of lodgepole pines often grow in groups of two and are curved. Their cones are small, with stiff brown scales with a point at the tip. The inland variety stays closed for years, depending on the high heat of forest fires to open them to release their seeds.

The coastal native people used the trees in a variety of ways.

The Haida turned the bark into splints for broken bones, the Saanich used the pitch to hold arrowheads onto shafts, and the coast Salish such as the Tlingit used the pitch and bark for medicinal purposes.

These days, forest officials are working to curb outbreaks of weevils and pine bark beetles, which are attacking the trees and turning pockets of lodgepole pine into dry, brown skeletons.

Sources: “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast,” by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon; “Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics,” by Stephen R. Whitney and Rob Sandelin; Amy B. Cope writing for Fire Effects Information System online (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service); James E. Lotan and William B. Critchfield writing for U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service