Pinyon pine trees are the uneven pine trees that don’t quite look like pine trees or deciduous, leaved trees. They are native to the canyons and slopes around and in the Wrightwood area.
Old growth pinyon pine in Lone Pine Canyon
Singleleaf pinyon pine (pinus monophylla) is found in pinyon-juniper woodland, montane juniper woodlands, Jeffrey pine forests, sagebrush steppe, montane white fir forest, and subalpine woodland. In pure stands below 9,000 ft. in the high Sierra Nevada, the Inyo and White Mountains, the Tehachapi Mountains, and the Peninsular and Transverse Ranges of southern and eastern California. Its range extends into Arizona, New Mexico and northern Baja California in the southwest and occurs in the dry mountain ranges of Nevada, Utah, and southeastern Idaho on the east.
Pine Family (Pinacaeae). Singleleaf pinyon is an evergreen tree reaching heights of up to 12 meters. When young, it forms a pyramidal or rounded silhouette against the sky, while mature pinyons display a more ungroomed, irregular branching appearance. The cylindrical, bluish-gray leaves are generally one per bundle and 1 to 2 in. in length. The female cones are wind-pollinated. The subglobose cones ripen in August of the second growing season, full of 1/2-inch long, wingless seeds. Pinyon trees produce cones every three to seven years. Trees usually do not start bearing cones before they are 35 years old and do not start producing good seed crops before 100 years.
Dried cones exposing red-brown nuts
Uses: Traditionally different tribes in California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest U.S. have utilized this tree for fuel wood and the pine nuts for food. The Washoe have made pinyon supple branches into stirring sticks for mixing pine nut soup. Pinyon pitch is melted and applied by different tribes as an outer covering for baskets to make them watertight or used to waterproof and repair pottery vessels. The tree’s large, orange-red to chocolate-brown seeds have been an important food to Native Americans for millennia and are extremely important today. The cones are still gathered in the fall by tribes in California, the Great Basin and the Southwest roasted, parched, shelled, winnowed, ground into a meal, and made into nutritious pine nut soup, mush, and cakes. Another modern way to prepare the pine nuts, is to roast them in the oven in their shells, and then shelled and eaten as a snack. Since the trees produce good crops every several years, each family relies on a series of groves, rotating harvests at different groves — depending upon which grove is the most productive. Since trees can reach ages of more than 600 years, some of the tribal pinyon gathering sites have been visited for many generations. Tools and harvesting methods are purposefully designed to enhance or maintain future pinyon cone production. There are two major harvesting methods utilized today by different tribes. The first method is to use a hooked stick that brings down the flexible limbs of the tree and the green, immature cones are hand-twisted from the branches before they open and disperse their seeds. The hooked stick can also be used to snap cones off the limbs. Sometimes children climb the trunks of the trees and hand pick the cones, while others use ladders as a replacement for the hooked sticks. Harvested cones are placed in plastic buckets, a modern adaptation of the gathering basket. A second gathering method is to wait until the cones open, and then whip the trees with a pole, knocking the seeds out of the mature cones and collecting them from the ground. During this process, dead or dying branches are pruned back, a practice various tribes say is good for the trees.
Wildrose charcoal kilns in Death Valley National Park
Early Euro-American settlers of the Great Basin logged pinyon trees, for wood, fuel for heating, cooking, and to supply steam engines. Pinyon charcoals were used to smelt the silver ores that became Nevada’s number one industry in the 1860’s and 70’s. In the last three decades, public land agencies chained large tracts of pinyon trees and reseeded areas with non-native grasses, such as crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) to increase grasses for livestock. Other main uses of singleleaf pinyon include fence posts, Christmas trees, and edible seeds.
Chipmunks not only use the pinyon nuts for food, but by over-collecting help to disperse the seeds
Many kinds of birds and small mammals feed on the seeds including white-footed pinyon mice, chipmunks, golden-mantled ground squirrels, wood rats, white-breasted nuthatches, Clark’s nutcrackers and chickadees. Black bears, deer, and porcupines feed on the seeds, bark, and foliage of the pinyon pine, while mountain sheep browse the foliage and twigs. The inner bark is a staple food of the mountain pine beetle, as well as the fungus causing pinyon blister rust. Even the pitch, dripping from pinecones is feasted upon by pitch midges, and is harvested for the nests of Dianthidium bees. Saw flies feed on either needles or pollen, while gall midges live in galls that occurs in the needle fascicle.
From USDA Plant Guide, PIMO — adapted by W. Feller