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What Is the Difference Between Yellow Pines and Lodgepole Pines?

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The Pinus genus contains 114 species, more than any other member of the conifer family. Although each species has its own unique size, shape and features, pines share some characteristics; all pines have aromatic, evergreen foliage; produce cones that take from two to three years to mature; and have rough, furrowed bark. The yellow, Southern yellow or longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and the lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) possess common and varied features.

Size and Form

The yellow pine grows from 80 to 125 feet tall with a 30 to 40-foot spread, occasionally reaching heights of more than 154 feet in its native habitat. Yellow pines have a rounded crown atop a straight trunk. The lodgepole pine also has a long, straight trunk, but has a narrower crown than the yellow pine. It grows up to 100 feet tall with a 60-foot spread.


Yellow pine foliage grows in bunches of three, bright-green needles that are from 8 to 16 inches long. Yellow pine needles bend easily and often grow at a descending angle to create a pendulous effect. New needle growth emerges in winter as clusters of white buds. Lodgepole pine needles grow in clusters of two and can be yellow-green to dark-green in color. Needles range from 1-1/2 to 3 inches long and are long-lasting, persisting on trees for up to six years. New growth emerges as small, brown buds. Often, lodgepole pine needles twist, as indicated by the species' scientific name.


Yellow pine bark tends to be brown-orange with heavy scaling. Yellow pines have thick, strong branches that tend to descend at the tips as the tree ages. In contrast, lodgepole pines tend to have thin, scaly brown-gray or red-brown bark. Their twigs are thin and dark red-brown.

Flowers and Fruits

Pine trees aren't usually known for their showy flowers, and neither the yellow nor the lodgepole pine is an exception. The yellow pine blooms in spring with small, yellow flowers, as does the lodgepole pine. Yellow pine cones take two years to mature and grow up to 12 inches long. This pine's hard, brown cones attract birds and other wildlife. The lodgepole pine's cones take to 20 months to grow and are about 3 inches long. Cones often remain closed for several years; according to the University of Utah, lodgepole pine cones require heat to melt the resin that holds their scales closed.

Growing Site Preferences

Yellow pines prefer full sun exposures, although they tolerate partial shade. They grow best in well-draining soil with an acidic pH. They're hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 to 10a. Lodgepole pines don't tolerate shade well and thrive in sunny exposures. They prefer rich, moist soil with an acidic pH but, like the yellow pine, tolerate drought once established. Lodgepole pines are hardy in USDA zones 1 to 7b.

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