Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ in full winter glory.
Photos courtesy of Bizon Nursery and Mark Leichty
Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia ‘Chief Joseph’ is one of the most beautiful conifers in horticultural production today and makes a striking addition to any landscape with its richly golden winter color. Pinus contorta is divided into three major subspecies, P. contorta subsp. contorta (shore pine), P. contorta subsp. latifolia (lodgepole pine) and P. contorta subsp. murrayana (also commonly called lodgepole pine). The species is native to the Pacific Coast from central California up through British Columbia and into the Yukon Territory. Of the three subspecies, latifolia is the most widespread. ‘Chief Joseph’ is a selection of subsp. latifolia collected in the late 1970s by Doug Will of Sandy, Ore., while on an elk hunting trip in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. Will named his find after Chief Joseph, the legendary chief of the Nez Perce tribe. In 1877, Chief Joseph led the U.S. Army and General Oliver Howard on an 1,100 mile chase from Oregon across Idaho and Wyoming into Montana, where he hoped to cross over into Canada and join Sitting Bull’s Lakota Sioux who had found sanctuary there.

‘Chief Joseph’ is slow growing, reaching 4-6 feet in 10 years and attaining a mature height of 20 feet in 30 years. It has an irregular-conical shape which starts out somewhat compact and opens up as the tree matures. Many growers candle prune these and other pines to keep them more compact. The stunning yellow-gold color makes ‘Chief Joseph’ a dazzling specimen in the winter landscape. It fades to lime-green in the spring and through the summer until is shows of its golden cloak again beginning in the fall as the weather cools. It does best planted in full sun. It requires well-drained soil and regular water during the dry season for the first couple years.

Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust.