12 Days of Conifers: Lodgepole Pines and Mountain Meadows

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For Day 11 of 12 Days Of Conifers, we present the lodgepole pine. Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) is the only pine in the Sierra Nevada with needles in clusters of two, making it relatively easy to identify in that region.

Open lodgepole pine cone nestled among needles

Open lodgepole pine cone in the Sierra

(Credit: Robert Klinger, USGS Western Ecological Research Center. Public domain.)

There are several varieties of lodgepole pine, including the Sierra lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. murrayana) and Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia). While the varieties are considered part of one species, they can have important differences as a result of having adapted to different environments. For example, Sierra lodgepole cones are largely non-serotinous (the cones open without fire or other environmental stimulus), while serotiny is much more common in the Rocky Mountain variety.

Sierra lodgepole pine can be found at high elevations, in the upper montane and subalpine zone. Over the past few decades, scientists have observed that lodgepole pine and other conifer species have been encroaching into high-elevation meadows, a dynamic illustrated by the lodgepole pine stands in these photos. USGS scientist Rob Klinger, who took these photos, has been studying this phenomenon, exploring how plant-animal interactions, conifer encroachment, and climate interact to shape the ecology of these high-elevation ecosystems.

Learn more about USGS research in mountain meadows.

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Mountain meadow with a lodgepole pine in the center

Lodgepole pine in a mountain meadow

(Credit: Robert Klinger, USGS Western Ecological Research Center. Public domain.)

Conifers on the edge of a mountain meadow

Lodgepole pines on the edge of a mountain meadow

(Credit: Robert Klinger, USGS Western Ecological Research Center. Public domain.)