Pinyon Pine – Pinus edulis

Pinyon Pine – Pinus edulis
Family Pinaceae: Pine, Cedar, Spruce, Fir

Pinyon is a small, drought-hardy, long-lived tree widespread in the southwest U.S.

Pinyons have been cut for private use for Christmas trees for many years and have recently appeared on commercial lots. In states with large acreages of pinyon-juniper woodlands, up to 40 percent of the yearly harvest in the past has been reported as pinyon. Demand has decreased since 1960, however, when 294,000 trees were harvested, ranking pinyon as 13th nationally. The decline has been attributed to an increasing supply of other plantation-grown species and the scarcity of high-quality trees in easily accessible stands.

Pinyon-juniper woodlands over the past 400 years have been, and will continue to be, grazed extensively. Furthermore, range improvement practices to increase forage for wildlife and livestock have removed the woodland trees over large areas. Woodland watersheds also have been mechanically cleared or chemically treated in the past, but future treatments may be limited to specific areas, because the possibility of generally increasing water yield does not appear promising. Pinyon-juniper woodlands provide a habitat for a varied wildlife population. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, desert cottontail, mountain cottontail, and wild turkey provide increasing hunter recreation. Pinyon nuts are a preferred food for turkeys, but in poor seed years, juniper mast is also consumed. Similarly, deer subsist on browse species, but pinyon is a common food particularly during harsh winters with deep snow. (1)

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Pinyon is a small, drought-hardy, long-lived tree widespread in the southwestern United States. Its common name is derived from the Spanish piñon which refers to the large seed. For this reason the tree is known in the Southwest and throughout its range by this Spanish equivalent. Other common names are Colorado pinyon, nut pine, two-needle pinyon, and two-leaf pinyon. Its heavy, yellow wood is used primarily for fuel. Because of their delicate flavor its seeds are in much demand, making them its most valuable product. The edible nuts of pinyon are probably the most valuable product of the species and are in great demand because of their delicate flavor. Common names include Colorado pinyon, nut pine, two-needle pinyon, and two-leaf pinyon.  (1)

Pinyon has long been used for firewood in rural communties of the Southwestern U.S. Pinyon is preferred for fuelwood since it has a higher heat value than any of its associates except the oaks, and burns with a pleasing and distinctive aroma. Although pinyon has physical properties similar to those of ponderosa pine and is suitable for processing, it is not extensively used for sawn products because of poor growth form and small size. Specialized woodworking shops use pinyon for novelties, and small sawmills produce mine timbers and railroad ties. The ties are used primarily in open pit mines because of their toughness and resistance to breakage during frequent rail line shifts. Pinyon has been used for pulping in the Southwest, but only to alleviate shortages of normally used mill-residue chips and pulpwood of other species. It is also occasionally processed for charcoal.

The edible nuts of pinyon are probably the most valuable product of the species and are in great demand because of their delicate flavor. Annual nut crops have been estimated to average between 454 000 and 907 000 kg (1 to 2 million lb), reaching 3.6 million kg (8 million lb) in an exceptionally productive year. Commercial crops are practically nonexistent in some years, however. Nuts are commonly sold and consumed after roasting in the shell, but small quantities are sold raw. A limited retail market exists for shelled nuts, which have also been used in candies and other confections.

1. USDA Forest Service Silvics Manual Conifers – Pinus edulis
2. Pinyon pine, Morton Arboretum acc. 232-81-3 photos © Bruce Marlin
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