World Plants Logo

search the world

Woody > Pinus > Pinus balfouriana > Pinus balfouriana subsp. balfouriana

Pinus balfouriana

ssp. balfouriana

Foxtail Pine

Origin:  First discovered by John Jeffery in 1852, the Foxtail Pine, or Pinus balfouriana subsp. balfouriana, is endemic to the North Klamath Range of the California Mountains, United States of America, at elevations of 1525 - 1830 m above sea level.
            Mike's Opinion

this is Mike


Pinus balfouriana has two subspecies: Pinus balfouriana subsp. aristate, which is native to the south mountains; and Pinus balfouriana subsp. balfouriana, which is native to the north mountains. This species is so closely related to the Pinus longaeva and Pinus aristata you would almost think they are the same tree. These trees all share common ancestors, meaning they have similar characteristics while also maintaining differences in growth form, bark, and chemical composition. (Fryer, J.L, 2004). Known as the true Foxtail Pine, Pinus balfouriana subsp. balfouriana seems to be overshadowed by its close relatives but is still of interest to researchers in the Horticultural world. - Jillian Sguigna

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (evergreen)
USDA Hardiness Zone
5 - 9
Canadian Hardiness Zone
4a - 6a
RHS Hardiness Zone
Temperature (°C)
- 23 - (-29)
Temperature (°F)
- 10 - (-20)
22 m
2 - 3 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
Its thick bark, needle covered shoots resembling a foxtail, and upright structure make this tree an excellent choice for anyone who wants to add new pine to their collection. It is a monoecious conifer that is long-lived and slow growing. Not as widely popular compared to the southern subspecies, the northern subspecies is overlooked and under-appreciated. Due to climate change, the Foxtail pine has appeared on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened since March of 2011 (IUCN Red List, 2021).
Being a very ecologically important species, it is not commonly known for garden use and very rarely seen in Botanical Gardens or Arboretums. It offers possible protection for wildlife, has an open structure helping slow snow melt, and stabilises soil on steep sub-alpine slopes – all making this tree important to its native habitat (Fryer, J.L, 2004). With the right conditions, it is possible for this tree to become an interesting and rare specimen tree within a well-maintained garden.
As a mountain species, planting is recommended in well-draining soil, in a location that gets full sun. Soil texture should be sandy or loam and very acidic to a neutral pH level. Considering the rarity of this tree there is no confirmed research of its tolerance to urban environments; recommendations would be to keep this species away from streets to avoid an abundance of salt pollution. This species seems to need little to no pruning. Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh has had success in cultivation of this species with acidic, light, sandy soil with a pH of around 6.5 and well-draining. They are in a USDA zone of 9, having average winters of - 6C, summers of 20C and around 1.5 m of rain (Brown, P. personal communication).
An upright or slightly leaning, commonly single stem, trunk with a broad conical to unbalanced or irregular crown. The shape does not seem to differ from a young specimen to a mature one, the twisting of mature branches is the only noted difference.
ID Characteristic
Dense clusters of inward curving five needles covering the shoot to resemble a foxtail or bottle brush. Bark has thick irregular deep-fissures or irregular blocky plates grey or cinnamon in colour and mature branches are ascending to descending and distorted.
Considering the environment, this species of Pine is more likely to be impacted or killed by lightning strikes, wildfires, avalanche, or rock fall. However rare, studies have shown that they are susceptible to White pine blister rust, mountain pine beetle, and minor damage from a fungal needle rust Lophodermium durilabrum (Fryer, J.L, 2004).
Contributing to the Klamath Range diverse plant communities, the Foxtail Pine occurs at elevations between 1525 - 1830 m high. They generally grow on dry, serpentine, rocky soil, exposed high slopes and ridges, and in areas that are mostly devoid of vegetation (Thomas, P, 2019). However, it is possible for them to grow on wetter, non-serpentine, north-slope soils (Fryer, J.L, 2004). A wider diversity of habitat occurs in the Trinity and Marble (Salmon) mountains of the Klamath Range, with a much narrower diversity occurring in the lowest southern Yolla Bolly Mountains. Communities of Whitebark pine, Mountain hemlock, Jeffrey pine, and Sierra lodge pine may all occur along with the Foxtail pine depending on environment (Fryer, J.L, 2004).
Bark/Stem Description
Young stems are red-brown colour, ageing grey to yellow-grey, smooth, and resembling bottlebrushes because of the persistent leaves. Mature branches are distorted, ascending to descending, short and thick in diameter. The bark is covered in irregular deep-fissures or irregular blocky plates that are grey and cinnamon or salmon in colour (The Gymnosperm Database, 2022). The mature bark is abnormally thick, measuring around 4 - 8 cm in thickness (Fryer, J.L, 2004).
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
Buds measure 1 cm, ovid-acuminate in shape, resinous and red brown in colour (American Conifer Society, n.d).
Leaf Description
Deep blue to a deep yellow green in colour, smooth needles grow in dense fascicles of five and measure 1 - 4 cm long and 1 - 1.5 cm wide (American Conifer Society, n.d). Persisting 10 - 30 years, they grow curving inwards crowding the shoot resembling a fox tail giving the tree its common name. Needle sheath is 0.5 - 1 cm in length, helping form a rosette soon after the needles push and then shedding early (American Conifer Society, n.d).
Flower Description
Pollen Cones are red, ovate in shape, measure 6 - 10 mm long. Dispersal of pollen and pollination occurs in July and August (Fryer, J.L, 2004). Before opening, seed cones are spreading, symmetric, lance-cylindrical in shape with a conic base. Once opened they are more broadly lance-ovoid to cylindrical. Mature cones open and shed seeds in September and October (Fryer, J.L, 2004). They are purple when young, then mature to a reddish brown in colour and measure 6 - 9 cm long, sitting almost sessile along the branches. The apophysis of the cone scales are much thicker, rounded, and larger toward the cone base, with a central umbros that is usually depressed. The prickle is commonly weak measuring to 1 mm in length and any resin that is released by the cone is amber in colour (American Conifer Society, n.d). The northern subspecies is known to have heavy cones and larger seeds with larger wings than the southern subspecies (Fryer, J.L, 2004).
Fruit Description
Seeds have a narrow obovoid body measuring 10 mm and an attached wing measuring 10 - 12 mm long. Their colour is a pale brown with marbled deep red (American Conifer Society, n.d). Wind pollinated and dispersed, seed cones take 2 years to fully mature, shedding seeds and falling off branches not too long after (The Gymnosperm Database, 2022).
Colour Description
Bark has plates that are grey and cinnamon or salmon in colour and young stems start as red-brown colour, ageing grey to yellow-grey. Needles are a deep blue to a deep yellow green with a contrast of red pollen cones and young purple seed cones maturing to red-brown.
Texture Description
Thick bark gives this tree a rough or coarse look and feel, contrasting with the smooth needles that cover shoots densely, almost giving them a bushy look. The texture does not change through the seasons.
Notable Specimens
Edinburgh Botanical Garden in Edinburgh Scotland is known for their three beautiful specimens. Shasta-Trinity National Park in northern California, United States of America, is home to Pinus balfouriana subsp. balfouriana and holds records for some of the biggest and oldest known specimens of this subspecies (The Gymnosperm Database, 2022).
Seed propagation seems to be the most known method for the Foxtail Pine. Soak seeds in room temperature water for two days, changing the water after twenty-four hours before stratification. Place seed in a loosely tied plastic bag filled with moist sand and store at 17 - 22C, stratify 30 -60 days before planting and plant in spring. Seeds should be planted right after the stratification process otherwise you run the risk of the seeds going back into dormancy. Plant seeds in well-draining, acidic, sandy loam soil; adding peat moss can help make your soil more acidic and help discourage disease problems. Place in a full sun location, keeping the soil moist until the seedling starts to emerge. Only after it emerges should you start watering when the root zone is dry. Depending on your environment the seedling may need to be placed in protection from colder temperatures or mulched with straw or leaves 7 - 10 cm in depth, removing mulch in the spring. (Harrington, C, 1977).
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
Almost all existing standings of this species are now in protected areas, within the American National Park system. However, if you are ever lucky enough to get your hands on some down or dead wood of this tree it would be excellent quality for hand carving and smaller wooden projects (Thomas, P, 2019). It does have the possibility for a rare but interesting Bonsai use as well. Foxtail pines' most valued use in recent years is in dendrochronological and other climate studies (Fryer, J.L, 2004). With the history of the tree, its common ancestors, and the ever-changing climate, it stays of interest for studying its habitat and durability. Both subspecies have been noted for their adaptability to wildfire damage.
American Conifer Society. n.d. Pinus balfouriana / foxtail pine. More, D & White, J. (2005). The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Trees Second Addition. Princeton University Press.