Square Peg

A lone pine tree stands in the oak-sycamore riparian zone.

Lone Conifer near the North Fork of the Kaweah River

On a bank of the North Fork of the Kaweah River, between Kaweah and Advance, stands a conifer tree that is out of place compared to its surroundings. It is alone in a predominantly sycamore population near the water’s edge and surrounded by oaks. The tree is a curious sight.

Viewed from the road, across the river, this appears to be a pine tree in that its long needles are clearly viewed with the naked eye. Moreover, it appears to be a Jeffrey Pine or a Ponderosa Pine found in other parts of California rather than a Lodgepole Pine that has escaped from the river’s headwaters at a much higher elevation. The Jeffrey and Ponderosa are certainly more tolerant of this situation than the Lodgepole. Perhaps an expert can weigh in with a comment below.

It is difficult to visually tell the difference between Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines, even up close. But there is a trick involving their cones to differentiate the two. Simply remember “gentle Jeffrey, prickly Ponderosa”. If you are otherwise sure that the tree is either a Jeffrey Pine or a Ponderosa Pine then if the cones are smooth it is a Jeffrey Pine and if the cones have sharp spines then it is a Ponderosa Pine.

Whatever species of pine this curious specimen is it seems unlikely that it has occurred naturally at this latitude, at 1,025 feet in elevation. There are homes and ranches in the general vicinity but no structures in close proximity and no signs of human development besides the scratch trail made by folks accessing swimming holes. Does this tree mark the location of a cabin long since taken by Mother Nature, the tree being planted by the cabin’s occupant? Did a member of the Kaweah Colony plant the tree as a landmark? Or is this a natural albeit rare occurrence?