Ponderosa pine trees are highly adapted to forest fires, protected by their thick, vanilla-scented bark. Fire cleans out the underbrush of these forests to leave open, park-like areas found in relatively warm, dry locations. David Douglas, the Scottish botanist, named the tree, Pinus ponderosa, for its dense, ponderous wood. It is the most important timber sold in western North America.
Abert’s squirrels feast exclusively on Ponderosa pine. In these forests there is a whole years’ menu available – male cones full of pollen in spring, female cone seeds in summer and fall, then sweet twig inner bark (cambium) in winter. But most delectable are the underground truffle-like knobs produced by associated fungi in mid- summer. Squirrels spread the fungal spores throughout the forest after the spores pass through their digestive system unharmed.