Pinaceae (pine family) Pinus

Pinus jeffreyi Jeffrey pine

Sierra Nevada
Jeffrey pine at the Carnegie Institution. Sairus Patel, 9 Oct 2023

Jeffrey pine is a noble tree of the Sierra above 5000 feet, reaching from Oregon to Baja California, and seen in typical form at Stanford Sierra Camp on Fallen Leaf Lake. There are three needles to a bunch, each about 8 inches long. The cones are the same length more or less, and are nice to handle, despite incurved spines at the tips of the scales. The bark is constructed in flakes shaped like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Larger trees develop a distinctly yellowish tinge in the bark. The likely tallest in the state, about 207 feet, is in the Trinity Alps. The largest, however, is at Huntington Lake, at 184 feet tall with a trunk circumference of almost 25 feet. On campus see a modestly sized specimen at the south edge of the Carnegie Institution grounds, close to Searsville Road.

Jeffrey pine can sometimes be hard to tell apart from ponderosa. Look for a fully opened cone. With Jeffrey, its spines point towards the base. Ponderosa’s curve outward. Much confusion reigns about the scent difference between the species. If you put your nose against the cracks between the plates of bark and inhale, some say you will detect vanilla or butterscotch in Jeffrey, with ponderosa having no particular scent. Others dispute this. Still, it is fun to stand at a mature pine especially on a warm day and take a whiff. Those in the know will understand exactly what’s going on.

Seed cone with downward-pointing spines, Carnegie Institution. Sairus Patel, 9 Oct 2023
Emerging seed cones on Jeffrey pine, Carnegie Institution. Sairus Patel, 5 Oct 2022
Pinus jeffreyi seed cones, leaves. From Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope, George B. Sudworth, USDA, 1907

Name derivation: Pinus – Latin for pine; jeffreyi – after John Jeffrey (1826–1854), gardener at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, who discovered it.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Revised, including a note on scent and champion trees (champions ref., California Big Trees Registry) (Jan 2024, SP).