Inland Northwest residents often take ponderosa pines for granted.
They’re scrappy survivors of the tree world, thriving on empty lots and barren highway medians. They take root in rocky soil and produce tough, aromatic needles that don’t wilt in triple-digit heat.
After a few decades, they lose their bushy youthfulness and grow into stately trees that provide wildlife habitat and edible seeds for squirrels and birds. In urban settings, they shade city streets, muffle traffic noise and soak up storm water.
“For us, ponderosa pines are Spokane’s environmental mascot,” said Amanda Swan, development director for The Lands Council. “We really want people to embrace them… They covered the landscape long before we were here.”
The nonprofit environmental group has ordered 10,000 ponderosa pine seedlings for a mass tree planting called “Reforest Spokane” on Oct. 22. About 750 volunteers with shovels are needed.
Money for the “Reforest Spokane” project is coming from an online contest sponsored by Tom’s of Maine. The natural products retailer is giving away $150,000 in grants for community projects.
Though finalists won’t be announced for several weeks, The Lands Council is confident that it will make the cut, said Mike Petersen, the nonprofit’s executive director. Six organizations will receive grants. Reforest Spokane had ranked No. 1 in online voting on Sept. 6, when Tom’s of Maine took down the voting results page a week before the competition ended.
The pines will be planted along the Spokane River, Latah Creek, the North-South corridor and other locations. About 10 planting sites have been chosen in cooperation with the city of Spokane’s urban forestry team and other agencies. A few more locations are in the works, Swan said.
Ponderosa pines are the most widely distributed tree in the West, with a range that extends from southern British Columbia to Mexico and from the Black Hills to the eastern slopes of the Cascades. But they got their name here.
In 1826, Scottish botanist-explorer David Douglas encountered ponderosa pines along the Spokane River. He named them “pinus ponderosa” in Latin, referring to their bulk as ponderous, or heavy. The Latin name stuck.
Plants of the Wild in Tekoa, Wash., is providing the seedlings for Reforest Spokane. The seedlings are being planted in the fall to ensure the best survival rates. The cooler, wetter weather gives their roots a chance to get established, Swan said.
The Lands Council has organized other community reforestation efforts, but 10,000 ponderosa pine seedlings will be the biggest planting to date.
“We’re so passionate about instilling this sense of pride in ponderosa pines in Spokane,” Swan said. “You can look out your window and see these beautiful pines…They’re kind of watching over us and providing all these benefits.”