At least seven common species of pine trees are found in Northwestern California as of 2010. You can identify the pine trees by looking at several different characteristics, including the needles, cones and bark. Most of these pine trees grow in the mountainous regions of Northwestern California. Although at first these pine trees might look quite similar, upon closer inspection you'll be able to easily distinguish between the different species. A tree field guidebook is a helpful tool that you can reference when you're attempting to identify the different pine tree species.
Identify the lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) by its twisted needles that are 1- to 3-inches long and occur in bundles of two. The lodgepole pine tree has egg-shaped cones that are 1- to 2-inches long and bark that is dark, thin and flaky. This pine tree is found in the Pacific coastal regions of California.
Look for yellowish or orange-colored bark on older trees to spot the Ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), which are mostly found in the Pacific coast mountain areas. The Ponderosa pine tree has three needles per bundle, which are 5- to 10-inches long, with cones that are 3- to 5-inches long and have a protruding prickle on each cone scale.
Spot the Western White pine (P. monticola) by looking for a tree with five needles per bundle that are 2 to 4 inches long and have white lines on two of the three sides. This pine tree has smooth bark when it's younger and dark bark that flakes off into small squares or rectangles when it's older. The Western White pine tree's cones are 5 to 12 inches long, curved and thin with scales that curve upward at the tips.
Look for large, straight cones that are 10- to 12-inches long with thick straight scales to identify the sugar pine tree (P. lambertiana). The sugar pine has five needles per bundle, which are 2- to 4-inches long with white lines on all three sides and reddish-brown bark that breaks into long plates on older sugar pine trees.
Identify the Jeffrey pine tree (P. jeffreyi), found in mountainous areas of Northwestern California, by its distinctive reddish-brown bark as it ages and needles that are grouped into three per bundle, each needle growing up to 5- to 10-inches long. This pine tree has large 5- to 12-inch long cones, and each scale on the cones has an inwardly-curving prickle.
Find the knobcone pine tree (P. attenuata) in the coastal mountains of Northwestern California, on rocky ridges and slopes. Identify the knobcone pine by its twisted, skinny needles that are 3- to 7-inches long and grow in three needles per bundle, as well as its dark, scaly bark. This pine tree has cones that grow in thick clusters and are 3- to 6-inches long with knobby bumps on one side.
Spot the whitebark pine tree (P. albicaulis) by looking for its round, 2- to 3-inch long cones that have thick scales with no prickles. The whitebark pine has grayish, thin and scaly bark, as well as 1- to 3-inch-long needles that grow in groups of five per bundle, with muted white lines on all sides of needles.