A tree occasionally over 200 ft in the wild, with a perfectly erect, columnar trunk sometimes 8 ft thick, and comparatively short, often deflexed branches, forming a columnar or slenderly tapered head; bark of mature trees cinnamon or pinkish brown, divided into very large scaly plates; young shoots shining, reddish brown, glabrous, smelling of turpentine when cut. Buds cylindrical with a tapered apex, resinous, 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, 1⁄2 in. thick, with appressed scales. Leaves in threes, falling the third or fourth year, 5 to 10 in. long; margins minutely toothed; leaf-sheath persistent, 5⁄8 to 7⁄8 in. long. Cones elongated oval, 3 to 6 in. long, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. thick before opening; scales with a raised, short-prickly umbo. Seeds about 1⁄4 in. long, with wing 1 in. long.
P. ponderosa has a very wide range in western N. America, from British Columbia to the Mexican border and eastward to the Rocky Mountains and even beyond them; it occurs, for example, in the Black Hills of Dakota. Introduced in 1827 by David Douglas. As a timber tree it is the most important of the N. American pines. Although thinly furnished with branches, it is, nevertheless, one of the most imposing and stately of the genus. It is variable in the length of its leaves and in the size of its cones. Some Rocky Mountain trees have the cones usually not more than 3 in. long and the leaves in pairs as well as in threes; these are sometimes distinguished as var. scopulorum Engelm.
Some trees from the original introduction by Douglas still survive. They are: Dropmore, Bucks, pl. 1829, 98 × 93⁄4 ft (1970); Arley Castle, Worcs., pl. 1829, 114 × 71⁄2 ft (1961); Bowood, Wilts, 120 × 131⁄2 ft (1968); also, probably, Powis Castle, Montgom., 128 × 14 ft (1970). Some other notable specimens are: Highnam Court, Glos., pl. 1844, 85 × 13 ft (1970); Bicton, Devon, 104 × 111⁄2 ft (1968); Scotney Castle, Kent, 120 × 103⁄4 ft (1971); Silia, Radnor, a superb tree, 121 × 101⁄4 ft (1970).
The var. scopulorum (see above) is represented at Kew by a tree planted in 1889, measuring 49 × 3 ft (1970).