Douglas Fir And Ponderosa Pine Forest

Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine Forest in Black Canyon
Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine Forest dominate the north facing slopes of Black Canyon

NPS (Henthorne)


Douglas-fir/Ponderosa Pine Forests are found primarily on the north facing slopes in Bighorn Canyon from Bull Elk Basin northward and in the higher elevations of the park. The east face of the Pryor Mountains has a dense Douglas-fir Forest. The precipitation is from 12 to 20 inches a year.

The higher elevations and north facing slopes retain the moisture and keep the temperatures lower than that found in the grasslands, juniper woodlands, and desert. The winds are broken by the trees. The elevations vary from 3,640 to over 8,000 feet.

Animal And Plant Life
Expect to find black bear, mule deer, elk, and porcupine along with such birds as Clark’s nutcracker and the Red-breasted nuthatch. Along with the dominant Douglas-fir and Ponderosa, there will be some Rocky Mountain juniper, Engelman spruce, common juniper, carrion flower, wax current, smooth sumac, Oregon grape, poison ivy, little bluestem, pasque flower, sticky geranium, golden pea, harebells, scrambled eggs and showy larkspur.

Douglas-fir – The Second Tallest Tree
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) have flat needles that are 1 to 1 ½ inches long and grow directly out in all directions from the branch. The needles have two whitish lines on the lower surface and are narrowed at the base into a short slender stem (the petiole) which leave a small raised scar when the needle is shed.

The pendant cones are 3 to 4 inches long and have distinctive three pointed bracts which protrude prominently above each scale. The middle point on the bract is longer, narrower and more pointed than the other two points. The bark is thick and furrowed black to reddish brown. The conical crown leads down to drooping side branches. Douglas-fir often grow 100 to 130 feet tall and some on the Pacific Coast reach 250 feet making it our second tallest tree.

Ponderosa Pine – The Sparkling Effect
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) have needles that come in bundles of three and are 5 to 10 inches long. When the three needles are held together they form a cylinder. When looking up through a Ponderosa, the sparkling effect is from the light reflecting off the two flat sides of the needles and not off the rounded, outer part of the needles.

The bundles form tufts near the ends of the branches giving a distinctive appearance to Ponderosas. The oval cones are 3 to 6 inches and the scales are tipped with a stiff prickle point. Mature trees have a reddish-orange bark made up of broad, irregular, scaly plates that are reminiscent of puzzle pieces. They commonly grow 150 to 180 feet tall with a broad, open crown.

Dominant Habitat
The Douglas-fir/Ponderosa Pine Forest is the dominant habitat in the higher, wider section of Bighorn Canyon. This habitat can be found north of the monocline - that raises the canyon rim 1,600 feet further above the lake level - giving a distinctive feel and vegetative presence to the north end of Bighorn Lake.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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