Lodgepole Pine

The main food use for this species is the inner bark, which was formerly eaten in large quantities in the spring, and was recalled fondly by many of the elders. It was harvested in May or June, depending on the elevation, by removing a large, rectangular section of bark from the trunk and scraping away the gelatinous tissue between the bark and the wood, using a special scraping tool. Several people commented that this food is like a spring tonic; it has laxative properties, and would give one “runny stomach” if too much was eaten. The pitchy wood of “jackpine”, as it is often called, is often used as fuel. The old, dried-out grayish cones of this tree were also good for smoking deer hides. Hunters and travelers were used pine boughs for bedding; the needled branches were broken off and laid in a thick layer for a mattress. The hardened or semi-hardened pitch of pine and fir was used for gluing and waterproofing. Mary Thomas described this use: the pitch is broken from the outside of the tree, heated in a can over the stove or fire until runny, strained, and then used for sealing and gluing implements, such as the leather binding at the top of a digging stick. Fir pitch alone tends to crack easily after it dries, but mixed with pine pitch, it works well.

Pine and subalpine fir pitch was also mixed with oil and used as a mosquito repellent. When Mary Thomas was young, they never used store-bought insect repellent; they just used to get pitch from young jackpine trees, and her mother would mix it with goose grease or ling cod liver oil. This was also sometimes taken as a tonic medicine, and generally kept the children very healthy.

Ecological Requirements

Lodgepole pine is a highly adaptable tree that can grow in all sorts of environments, from water-logged bogs to dry sandy soils.  Lodgepole pine is one of the first trees to invade after a wildfire. Its cones are protected by a seal of pitch, that requires fire or heat to release the seeds. This allows seeds to stay on the tree or on the ground for many years until disturbance provides suitable growing conditions.  Lodgepole pine can occur as the only tree in dense, very slow-growing groups of trees (so-called “dog-hair” stands).