Those who have spent time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or in Californias and Oregons Pacific Coast Range, are familiar with the sugar pines, which are known for their dropping cones, which can grow up to 2 feet long, making them the largest cones in the world. Not only are these trees the tallest among pines, but they also have the longest cones, which can grow over 20 inches in length.
Sugar Pines, named after their syrupy sweet resin, sugar pines are among the largest trees on earth, living hundreds of years and growing to over 200 feet high. Sugar pines used to make up around 20 to 25 percent (of our mixed-conifer Sierra forests), but they are down to under five percent right now, down from a high of about one to six percent because of pressure from the original logging, as well as the invasion of a fungal pathogen, and dry weather, and the blight. Sugar pines are vulnerable to White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola) infections, as well as Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) attacks.
Seedlings of survived sugar pine trees can be more resistant to drought and to mountain pine beetle. On dry, southern-facing slopes of this basins northern flank, sugar pines have been particularly badly affected, with mountain pine beetles attacking the trees, which are water-starved, tunneling into their bark until many of them die. Western pine beetles – they, like the mountain pine beetles, target ponderosas – prefer trees that are larger in diameter. Both Ponderosas and sugarbush trees grow truncated trees that, in my Southeast-biased mind, appear far too big for the number of green branches a tree produces.
The Sugar Pine, with its feet-long cones and floppy branches extending far over the woods, was once one of the more prevalent trees standing guard over the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe. It is well worth a hike out in the woods far away from Anna Creek, and they found this tree in prime condition, standing tall amid the yellow pines and firs, its large cones scattered between ceanothus and chinquapin brush near its base. Pinus lambertiana (commonly known as sugar pine or sugarcone pine) is the tallest and bulkiest of all pines, and has the longest cones of all conifers.
The Sugar Pine Foundation of Lake Tahoe Basin has been successful at finding sapling trees that are resistant to the sugar pine, and has demonstrated the importance for the public in helping the US Forest Service to recover the sugar pine. Efforts have been undertaken to recover sugar pines and other white pines impacted by invasive species, climate change, and wildfires, both by government and non-governmental entities.