Pinus jeffreyi / Jeffrey pine

subgenus Pinus, section Trifoliae (Duhamel), subsection Ponderosae (Louden).

Pinus jefferyi, first described in 1853 by Robert Kaye Greville (1794–1866) and John Hutton Balfour (1808–1884) in Andrew Dickson Murray (1812–1878), is commonly know as Jeffrey pine as well as bull, western black, Truckee or sapwood pine. The species name honors Scottish gardener, John Jeffrey (1826 - 1854), who collected the type specimen in California's Shasta Valley, for the Oregon Botanical Association in Edinburgh, before he disappeared in Arizona.

artwork courtesy of Aljos Farjon
artwork courtesy of Aljos Farjon

Description. Jeffrey pine is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 80 to 120 feet (24 - 39 m) tall with a straight trunk up to 24 to 48 inches (60 - 120 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height; and conic to rounded crown.

  • Bark is colored yellow-brown to cinnamon, thick, deeply furrowed and cross-checked, forming large irregular scaly plates, with odor of lemon and vanilla during the growing season.
  • Branches grow spreading-ascending; twigs are stout, to 0.8 inch (2 cm), colored purple-brown, often glaucous, aging rough.
  • Foliar buds are ovoid shaped, colored tan to pale red-brown, 0.8 to 0.12 inch (2 - 3 cm) long, not resinous, with conspicuously fringed scale margins.
  • Leaves (needles) grow in bundles of 3 per fascicle, spreading and ascending from their point of origin, persisting 4 to 6 years on the tree. The needles measure 4.8 to 8.8 inches (12 - 22 cm) long by circa 0.06 to 0.08 inch (1.5 - 2 mm) thick, grow slightly twisted, colored gray- to yellow-green. All surfaces bear fine stomatal lines, finely serrulate margins, and acute to acuminate apices. Foliar sheaths measure 0.06 to 0.1 inch (1.5 - 2.5 cm) with a persistent base.
  • Pollen cones are lance-cylindric shaped, 0.8 to 1.4 inches (20 - 35 mm) long, colored yellow to yellow- or purple-brown or yellow.
  • Seed cones mature 2 years after pollination, shedding seeds and falling soon thereafter. They are borne nearly terminal on the branch, spreading, slightly asymmetric at base, ovoid-conic before opening, cylindro-ovoid when open. They measure 6 to 12 inches (15 - 30 cm) long, colored light red-brown, nearly sessile or on peduncles up to 0.2 inch (0.5 cm) long. Abaxial surface of scales are not darker than, or sharply contrasting in color with adaxial surface, developing in low spirals (as compared to Pinus ponderosa) of 8 scales or more per row as viewed from side, those of cones just prior to and after cone fall not so spreading and deflexed, thus not so much separated from adjacent scales. Apophyses are slightly thickened and raised, not keeled; umbo is central, slightly raised, with a short, slender, reflexed prickle.
  • Seeds are ellipsoid-obovoid with a circa 0.4 inch (1 cm) long body, colored brown or gray-brown, mottled darker with a wing up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long.
natural range of <em>Pinus jeffreyi </em>
natural range of Pinus jeffreyi

Distribution. This species is native to USA — southwestern Oregon, south through the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevada of California and far western Nevada, south into Mexico — northern Baja California Norte, growing at elevations of 6,500 to 11,000 feet (2,000 - 3,100 m) on dry mountain slopes. It is characteristic species of serpentine and other nutrient-poor soils, environments in which it grows slowly but out-competes other trees.

Hardy to USDA Zone 8 — cold hardiness limit between 10 to 20ºF (-12.1°C to -6.7°C).

Attribution from: Elbert L Little Jr; The Audubon Society field guide to North American trees; ©1980, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Pinus jeffreyi growing in habitat along the road to Horseshoe Meadows, Mt Whitney, California.
Photo by Wikipedia, Public Domain photo
On one of the many serpentine outcrops in the Siskiyou Wilderness, Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) dominates the landscape. Bear Mountain, the highest in Del Norte County, California, is in the background.
Photo by M. Kauffmann, via Wikipedia
Pinus jeffreyi seed cones in situ.
Photo by C.J. Earle
Pinus jeffreyi — bark detail.
Photo by C.J. Earle


Fred Cain

I'm just a bit skeptical that Pinus Jeffreyi is only hardy to zone 8. It was stated (above) that it has been found on Baja, CA growing to near 11,000 feet. Even that far south, zone 8 could not possibly be found at 11K feet. That would be more like zone 5 or possibly even 4. Either it is not really growing there or the hardiness zone is incorrect.
Fred M. Cain

[Deleted User]

Hi Fred, we at the ConiferBase editing room get the vast majority of our hardiness and distribution data from this book. However, you locked onto the importance of having an interactive feature to this database — that of individuals being able to convey their own personal experiences in dealing with these plants where they live.
Perhaps the authors of these references will take notice and edit their work.

Fred Cain

Thank you conifereditor! I am definitely going to get this book. Hardiness zones can be somewhat confusing. I live in northeastern Indiana and was thinking about planting a Jeffrey pine. I looked at some online nurseries which gave the hardiness zone as anywhere from zone 8 all the way down to zone 4! One nursery in California stated that it was good in zones 1-4. Well, I knew that was wrong. But I'm thinking it might be good to zone 5. Since no one grows Pinus Jeffreyi around here, I guess the only thingI can do is try.

Fred M. Cain,
Topeka, IN

Fred Cain

Uh, well, gee! I BIG P.S. on this one. I WANTED the book really bad but unfortunately, I check with Amazon and Abe Books and couldn't find one for under $300. So, I'm not sure I want one quite that bad.

Fred M. Cain

Simon Smith

Jeffrey Pine is hardy to at least USDA zone 6 or Sunset zone 2. I live in the far northern tip of Idaho in USDA zone 6a/5b (Sunset zone 2b) and have 3 Jeffrey Pines growing in my yard that I ordered from a nursery in California. All 3 Jeffrey Pines are growing extremely well and this is their 3rd year. Also planted one in Northwest Montana when I lived over there which is a USDA zone 5 and it also is still thriving according to the friends that now live in the house. Jeffrey pines are more hardy and faster growing than it's close cousin the Ponderosa Pine which is native where I live. Hope this helps out a bit.

Fred Cain


I live in northeastern Indiana in zone 5b (Supposedly) and have four Jeffrey pines. They are now in their fourth season here and are doing quite well. The tallest of the four is now just a bit over six feet.

I'm glad they're drought resistant 'cause we are having a very dry summer here.

Thomas Neel

They are definitely much more hardy than zone 8, I also live in Zone 6b in eastern Washington, and these trees have no problems, despite winter temps that regularly go below the cold limit of 10-20 degrees. They are growing at a similar rate to the native ponderosas here as well.