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Plant of the Month - February 2023


The original specimen was discovered growing in Eastern Oregon in the Wallowa Mountains. It was named after Chief Joseph who led the Nez Perce Nation in the late 1800s.

Winter days seem long and dreary at the end of January, especially if the snow has melted. This is when evergreens give great interest to the garden, with greens ranging from purplish-black to dark and light greens. Many are in shades of blue or have yellow or white splashes. Pinus contorta var. latifolia ‘Chief Joseph’ is my all time favourite winter tree as the cold turns its green needles to a glowing gold. This is the most eye-catching tree in my February garden.

Pinus Chief Joseph snowPinus Chief Joseph snow melting

        Pinus 'Chief Joseph' mid January.                                  P. 'Chief Joseph' February.

Common Name: Golden Lodgepole Pine or Beach Pine

Life Cycle: Evergreen dwarf coniferous tree.

Height: to 3 m, spreading to 2 m in 10 years.

Flower: Non-flowering. Cones on a mature specimens.

Leaves: Needles are a greenish yellow in summer, becoming a wonderful golden yellow in the winter cold. They are stiff, 9 cm long, 2 mm wide, with two in each bundle.

 Pinus Chief Joseph winter needlesPinus Chief Joseph Spring needles

     Pinus 'Chief Joseph' winter needles.                Spring needles & candles.

Range: Pinus contorta  is native to western North America.

Habitat: Inland mountain forests.


Plant: ‘Chief Joseph’ will grow in a variety of soils, surviving in poor conditions, including city pollution and some drought.

Light: Full sun. It will die in full shade. I planted small specimen under an unwanted evergreen, thinking it would benefit from protection until it became established and the large evergreen was removed. The small 'Chief Joseph' was dying so I pouring water over it, resulting in its quick death.

Soil: Most soils, well drained. 

Water: Dry to medium, drought tolerant. Intolerant of waterlogged soils.

USDA Hardiness: Zone 4 - 9

Companion planting: An accent plant. Grow with spring bulbs, rock garden plants.

Pruning: ‘Chief Joseph’ although classified as dwarf, can grow up to 15 cm per year, eventually forming a twisted narrow shape up to 6 m high and 180 cm wide. This is too big for my rock garden.  I pinch back the candles by 2/3 in the spring when still soft and remove some branches to maintain an open shape.

Propagation: Try grafting a green needled cutting on Pinus contorta rootstock. 

Problems:  Do not plant in the shade. No major problems.

Alternative plants: Pinus mugo ‘Ophir’ or ‘Carstens’ are both yellow.


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Text and images supplied by Anna Leggatt (Toronto Master Gardener)