Whitebark pine is one of the shorter pine trees in the mountains, rarely growing above 15 metres. Its round bushy treetop is also uncharacteristic of pines and it grows from many different twisted stems. The needles are found in bunches of five which range from three to eight centimetres in length.
RANGE & HABITAT
This tree is only found at high elevations (1500 metres and above). It is common in the Cascade, Rocky and Southern Interior Mountain ranges. It thrives in open, windy, dry habitat and can grow well in shade and drought conditions.
The cones are egg-shaped and brownish-purple. They break open when ripe, and the seeds fall to the ground. Birds and squirrels help to carry the seeds from the parent tree.
The Clark’s nutcracker depends on the seeds for food. This pine tree is also highly valued as wildlife habitat because it can help stop erosion on steep slopes in high altitudes.
TRADITIONAL USES BY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The seeds are used as a food source, crushed and mixed with Saskatoon berries for food or ground finely to be used as flour. Many different native groups from the interior use the seeds in this way, including the Okanagan, Secwepemc, Nlaka’pmx, St’at’imc, and Ktunaxa. The Secwepemc and the Flathead Salish also use the roots and bark to make canoes and containers that can hold water.
Due to the tree’s habitat high up in the mountains, it is not used commercially for logging. Whitebark pine is valued for its beauty in nature, its ability to grow in harsh conditions, and because it is home to many birds and small mammals.