Colorado is a state best known for its mountains, making it the ideal state for those who want to enjoy outdoor activities year-round.
However, what many people don’t realize is that 40% of the state actually lies on the Eastern High Plains.
According to Colorado State University, the average altitude of the state of Colorado is 6,800 ft above sea level, with 59 mountains over 14,000 ft.
This unique topography encompasses USDA growing zones 3a to 7a. Needless to say, this rocky mountainous terrain is well suited to many different species of Pine Trees.
6 Pine Trees That Grow In Colorado
1. Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata)
The Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine grows in Colorado at elevations of 9,200 to 11,800 feet. It has a strongly twisted and tapering trunk with a diameter of up to 3 ft with a rounded, flattened, or irregular crown.
The ‘aristata’ in the name means ‘beard,’ and refers to the bristles on the pine cones which resemble white flakes.
The bark of Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines is red-brown colored, shallowly fissured with long flat irregular ridges. The branches are contorted with young branches resembling bottle brushes.
The upcurved leaves occur in bunches of 5 per fascicle and persist for 10-17 years and have a deep blue-green color.
Bristlecone Pines are known for their longevity, so whilst they are not the most abundant in the wild, left untouched they can thrive for a long time.
The downside (for the home grower at least) is that this means they are incredibly slow-growing. They need full and well-drained soil and will grow in dry, rocky, and infertile soil, away from any standing water.
Other Common Names: Colorado Bristlecone Pine, Foxtail Pine, Hickory Pine
Growing Zones: 4-7
Average Size at Maturity: 9-40 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide
2. Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)
Ponderosa Pines have an open rounded or flat-topped crown and are found at elevations of 6,300 to 9,500 feet in CO. The needles of the Ponderosa Pine range from 3-7 inches long in bundles of 3 that occur at the end of the branches.
The bark on younger trees is dark, whilst older trees develop large red-orange scaly plates.
Ponderosa Pines will grow in areas with dry, nutrient-poor soil in open park-like stands alongside Douglas fir trees, Rocky Moutain Juniper, and Spruce.
They are fire-resistant due to their open crown, thick insulating bark, self-pruning branches, and the high moisture content of the leaves and buds.
Ponderosa Pines grow best in deep, moist well-drained soils but will adapt to a wide array of different conditions.
Other Common Names: Bull Pine, Western Yellow Pine, Blackjack Pine, Rock Pine
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 60-100 ft tall and 25-30 ft wide
3. Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)
The Lodgepole Pine can be distinguished from other Pines by its straight somewhat narrow trunk. The common name dates to the time of the Colorado Gold Rush and refers to the indigenous usage of the timber.
Lodgepole Pines live at higher elevations, between 6,000 and 11,000 ft, forming an integral part of the CO timeless mountain landscape. They grow in and for part of montane and subalpine ecosystems.
The needles are 1-2 inches long and occur in bunches of 2 and are more yellow-green/olive than other pine species.
Lodgepole Pines need fire for the cones to open and hence to reproduce. The 2-inch-long cones can remain on the ground for years waiting for fire.
Any seedlings that do manage to sprout under an existing Lodgepole Pine canopy will likely perish and be replaced by more shade-tolerant conifers such as Douglas Fir or Spruce.
Other Common Names: Shore Pine, Twisted Pine, Contorta Pine
Growing Zones: 6-8
Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 40-50 ft wide
4. Piñon Pine (Pinus edulis)
Piñon Pines reside on dry rocky slopes, canyonlands, and southern prairies and can be found in Colorado National Monument in dry open land at elevations of 5000-8000 ft. They are shorter than the previous two pines, typically not exceeding 50 ft in height, and are evergreen trees.
Their trunks are gnarled and reddish-brown and support short needles and yellow/brown cones, with about 20 edible nuts, known as piñones in Spanish.
The cones are 1.5 to 2 inches long and are egg-shaped. These nuts are hand-picked in the Southwestern states and form an important part of the indigenous diet.
Pinyon Pines will grow best in full sun in well-drained soil.
Other Common Names: Pinyon Pine, Two Leaf Pinyon, Two Needle Pinyon, Colorado Pinyon
Growing Zones: 4-8
Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 ft tall and 10-20 ft wide
5. Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis)
The Limber Pine is typically a small tree with a broad and flat crown that is often symmetrical and multi-trunked. The name of this pine comes from its flexible branches. It can be found at elevations of 7,000 to 12,000 feet.
The bark on younger trees is grey, thin, and smooth, whilst the older bark is dark brown and deeply furrowed into scaly ridges. The needles are blue-green and slender.
The flexibility of the Limber Pine allows it to cling to rocky outcrops and grow where few other species can. As a result of this, they can often be seen with gnarled and twisted shapes. Like Ponderosa Pines, they thrive in soil that’s dry and poor in nutrients.
The cones are shades of yellow and brown, egg-shaped with thick and rounded scales.
Other Common Names: Limbertwig, Rocky Mountain Pine
Growing Zones: 4-7
Average Size at Maturity: 25-60 ft tall and 15-35 ft wide
6. Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra)
The Austrian Pine looks similar to the native Ponderosa Pine, but with more branches and a denser growth habit.
It’s a medium to fast-growing species with a strong central leader that attains a pyramidal shape when mature and retains its lower branches. Long, dark green needles protrude off the horizontal-growing branches.
The Austrian Pine is a hardy tree that grows in poor soils and on dry sites and is also adaptable to moist conditions. The bark is dark and furrowed and adds valuable winter interest to the landscape.
The Austrian Pine is a good choice If you’re looking for something to attract birds to your yard. It can easily handle environmental salt, as well as inner-city pollution.
Other Common Names: Black Pine, European Black Pine
Growing Zones: 5a-8a
Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 20-40 ft wide
The mountainous state of Colorado boasts the perfect climate and topography for the growth of Pine Trees. Pine trees are evergreen, coniferous, resinous trees that typically live anywhere between 100 and 1000 years.
You can either plant these trees in your CO home or admire them in the stunning wilderness that the state has to offer.
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Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn’t hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.