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Natural Areas of North Dakota

Limber Pines

GIF--Location of Natural Area


Richard P. Williams

Directions: Access to the limber pine area is difficult. The most common approach is to proceed north of Marmarth on the west side of the Little Missouri River to a point near the crossing of Cannonball Creek. Then follow a jeep trail along the ridge on the south side of the Cannonball Creek for a distance of about 5 miles. The approach is strictly a dry weather route. A topographic map is valuable in getting to the site.

Tucked away in a remote area of the North Dakota badlands is a little known stand of limber pines; Pinus flexilis.

JPG--Scenic Overlook

Limber pine is a wide ranging species in the Rocky Mountains occurring from British Columbia and Alberta south to California, Arizona and New Mexico, and eastward to North and South Dakota. Throughout its range it is generally found at high altitudes on windswept mountain ridges or dry rocky slopes. Its occurrence at the low elevation of about 2,800 feet is one of the unusual features of the North Dakota stand. The next nearest occurrence is in the central Black Hills of South Dakota.

Limber pine needles are borne in groups of five which readily distinguishes it from the more common ponderosa pine which has its needles in groups of three. The seeds of limber pine are distinctly larger than those of ponderosa pine and are reputed to have been used as food by Indian hunters. Numerous young trees attest to the vigor of the North Dakota stand even though it is estimated to be only 200 acres.

In North Dakota, limber pine is associated with Rocky Mountain juniper. The limber pine is more common on the scoria-capped hills while the juniper clings more to the steep clay sides and ravines. Skunkbush, creeping juniper, common juniper, buckbrush, big sagebrush, silver sagebrush and prickly pear are common in the shrub layer. The herbaceous plants include bluebunch wheatgrass, little bluestem, prairie sandreed, Indian ricegrass, threadleaf sedge, butte candle, hairy golden aster and others.

Limber pines were first discovered in North Dakota during the 1942 range survey of what are now the Little Missouri National Grasslands. The first published report was in O. A. Steven's Handbook of North Dakota Plants in 1950. Aside from the unique character of the pine stand, it is located in a most picturesque setting overlooking the Little Missouri River. A few miles away the juniper clad slopes of Pretty Butte are clearly visible.

Facilities: None

Administration and Contact: Limber pines is public land administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Information on use regulations and a copy of the Little Missouri National Grasslands map are available by writing: U.S. Forest Service, Little Missouri National Grasslands, Rt. 6, Box 131B, Dickinson, ND 58601.

DR. RICHARD P. WILLIAMS is a retired Soil Conservation Service scientist and active range researcher at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D.

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