Native to the mountains of southern Oregon, California, western Nevada and northern Baja California. Commonly associated with Pseudotsuga menziesii and Pinus ponderosa in the Sierra Nevada.
Needles are rich glossy green, closely spaced, flattened, scalelike, with sharp points, occuring in flat sprays, fragrant when crushed, persisting about 2 years, as branchlets enlarge with the main deciduous period in late summer.
The sprays of foliage are made up of elongate, flattened scale-like leaves arranged in four rows surrounding the branchlet, giving it a jointed appearance. The leaves are aromatic when crushed.
Inconspicuous male and female flowers occur in midwinter on separate twigs of the same branch, as yellowish thickened scaly bodies at ends of branchlet.
Oblong-ovoid 1" yellowish to reddish brown seed cones mature in September of the first season in California, splitting open into 5 parts, with 2 recurving away from the flat, straight center and 2 smaller scales at 90º and a sharply pointed hook at the ends.
Bark on young trees is thin, smooth, cinnamon-red, flaking in broad, flat plates, later thickening and becoming darker brown, appearing semi-fibrous wtih deep furrows and thick vertical ridges.