Pinus edulis / piñon pine

subgenus Strobus (Lemmon), section Quinquefoliae (Duhamel), subsection Cembroides (Engelmann).

Pinus edulis, first described in 1848 by Georg Engelmann (1809–1884), is commonly known as piñon pine; New Mexican, Colorado, mesa, two-leaved, or common piñon (or pinyon) pine. The species name is derived from the Latin work for "edible," pertaining to the tasty and nutritious seeds. This pine is the state tree of New Mexico.

Ethnobotany. The seeds are much eaten and traded by indigenous Americans, and by others who are lucky enough to partake of the harvest. The wood was formerly used in construction by Native Americans, and is still often used for fence posts and firewood. Due to their ecological importance, management of Pinus edulis woodlands is a major concern throughout their area of distribution. Principal management themes include wildfire control, grazing, invasion by weedy forbs and shrubs, and "grassland invasion" due to fire suppression. The literature on this subject is immense; search for "pinyon-juniper management" to see some examples.

artwork courtesy of U.S. National Park Service
artwork courtesy of U.S. National Park Service

Description. Piñon pine is an evergreen coniferous species of shrub or tree that grows to mature heights of 65 feet (21 m) with a strongly tapering trunk up to 24 inches (60 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height, and an dense, conic, rounded crown.

  • Bark is red-brown in color, shallowly and irregularly furrowed, with rounded, scaly ridges.
  • Branches are persistent nearly to the base of the trunk.
  • Twigs are colored pale red-brown to tan, rarely glaucous, aging gray-brown to gray, glabrous to papillose-puberulent.
  • Foliar buds are ovoid to ellipsoid shaped, resinous, colored red-brown, and measure 0.2 to 0.4 inch (0.5 - 1 cm).
  • Leaves (needles) are borne in bundles of 2 ( but occasionally 1 or 3) per fascicle, upcurved, persisting 4 to 6 years on the tree. They measure 0.8 to 1.6 inches (20 - 40 mm) long and 0.04 to 0.06 inch (1 - 1.5 mm), are connivent, 2-sided (1-leaved fascicles with leaves 2-grooved, 3-leaved fascicles with leaves 3-sided), Blue-green in color with all surfaces marked with pale stomatal bands, particularly the adaxial aspect. Margins are entire or finely serrulate with a narrowly acute to subulate apex.
  • Foliar sheaths measure 0.2 to 0.28 inch (5 - 7 mm) long, with scales recurving soon after needles extend, forming a rosette, shedding soon thereafter.
  • Pollen cones are ellipsoid shaped, yellowish to red-brown colored and measure circa 0.28 inch (7 mm).
  • Seed cones mature 2 years after pollination, shedding seeds and falling soon thereafter. Their form is symmetrically spreading and ovoid before opening, becoming depressed-ovoid to nearly globose when open. Cones are resinous, measuring 1.4 to 2 inches (3.5 - 5 cm) long, colored pale yellow- to pale red-brown, nearly sessile to short-stalked. Apophyses are thickened, raised, and angulate. Umbos are subcentral, slightly raised or depressed, truncate or umbilicate. As with other piñons, the seeds rest in a deep cone-scale declivity and upper cone scale tissue holds the seeds in place, so seeds do not readily fall out and are readily available to avian dispersers.
  • Seeds are mostly ellipsoid to obovoid shaped, brown in color with a 0.4 to 0.6 inch (10-15 mm) long body. They are wingless.
native range of <em>Pinus edulis </em>
native range of Pinus edulis

Distribution. This species is native to USA — widespread in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, with small outlier populations in extreme eastern Nevada, southern Wyoming, extreme western Oklahoma, trans-Pecos Texas. Also native to Mexico — Chihuahua. Grows at elevations of 4,500 to 6,500 feet (1,500 - 2,100 m) above sea level on dry mountain slopes, mesas, and plateaus .

Although Americans tend to see piñon-juniper as a hot desert vegetation type, Pinus edulis in particular, occupies a relatively cold, relatively mesic niche within the piñon-juniper type. Annual precipitation varies with geography and elevation from about 10 to 27 inches (250 - 560 mm), and varies from summer-wet to winter-wet, though some summer rainfall occurs throughout the species' range. Pinus edulis tends to give way to junipers or desert shrubs on dry sites, and to forest trees such as Pinus ponderosa on wet sites. Temperatures in the species' range vary from January means of 14° to 42°F (-10 - 6°C) and July means of 68° and 80°F (20 - 27°C).

Hardy to USDA Zone 5 — cold hardiness limit between -20° and -10°F (-28.8° and -23.3°C).

Attribution from: R. Kral, Flora of North America Editorial Committee (editors.); Flora of North America North of Mexico, Vol. 2; ©1993, Oxford University Press.

Pinus edulis seen during the Conifer Society tour of the Dawes Arboretum in Ohio in 2004.
Photo by Ken Church
Pinus edulis — Green Industry Images, copyrighted photograph; permission granted.
Photo by Ernie Wiegand
Pinus edulis Pinus edulis — Green Industry Images, copyrighted photograph; permission granted.
Photo by Ernie Wiegand
Pinus edulis — detail of foliage and 2nd-year seed cones.
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of
Pinus edulis — growing in habitat at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA.
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of
Pinus edulis — mature seed cones. Notice the deep seed pockets.
Photo by Blake Willson, courtesy of


Hallie Dickerson

Do you know how the female trees become pollinated? Is this through wind or an animal source?

Maxwell Cohn

Hi Hallie, in the case of pines, there is not such thing as "male" and "female" trees. All pine trees will produce pollen and seed cones. All conifers are wind-pollinated.

Robert Solomon

There are separate male and female flowers on each tree. Each pine tree contains both male and female cones, with female cones in the top branches of the tree's crown and male cones below them. The male cones are the ones that produce pollen grains, which drift to female cones on other trees and land on the unfertilized seeds, or ovules. After about two or three years, the now-fertilized female pinecones mature to become the woody cones most people recognize, and many open to release seeds on the wind.

Pine tree pollen and seeds are made for wind dispersal. Each pollen grain from the male cones has two air bladders, which allow the wind to carry it with ease. Meanwhile, some female pine scales, which hold the seeds, can expand to showcase a wing that aids in flight on the wind. The pollen is also lightweight and less sticky than some other types of pollen, making it easy for the breeze to pick it up and disperse it.

Not all fertilized female cones open naturally. Some rely on external factors, such as hungry animals, rot or fire, to open them and release their seeds. Meanwhile, the position of the male and female pine cones discourages self-pollination; the male pollen grains carry to other trees more easily than they drift directly upwards to female cones on the same tree.

- adapted from other online sources.

Mike Letteriello

I have a Pinus edulis that is now about 22 years old. It makes the male cones but have never seen the female cones above, unless i've missed them, but I looked at it just today and saw none.

JPablo Stewart

I was born in Mexico and grew up in New Mexico and have great memories of piñon trees for our Christmas tree and enjoying the nuts and using the cones as decoration (when we were kids). I now live in Palm Springs, CA and my question is: while I know it is not the IDEAL environment, would I be able to get a piñon not only sustain, but thrive in this hotter, lower sea level area? I have plenty of space for several trees, and would like a bit of home in at my new home. Thank you! JPS

Daniel Spear

JPS, You may have better success (and more likely to find for sale) Pinus monophylla (singleleaf pinyon pine). They are native to the foothills and areas between the desert and the high mountains in California, known as the pinyon-juniper forest. There are many thousands in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. My guess is they would have a better chance of withstanding your summer heat. It is also a gorgeous blue color with the most amazing fragrance of any pine I have ever encountered.

Arabella Lijan

Pinon trees are cut down by the hundreds every year for christmas, We have always had one, BUT they are dwindling, And pinon nuts are very expensive. I wish we would all write our officials and let them know that we want to pass our culture to our families, but use anything else, cedar trees smell and are just as cool! I LOVE MY PINON!

Jane Hunter

Why is the elevation so important? Is it the temp quoted at that elevation or the temp for the region, when they say 80F is that at the elevation or at lower urban level? Does the elevations impact on the composition of the air impact their growth? If the temperature ranges and terrain is the same at lower elevations can they be cultivated? I would love to grow these in Hill Country TX but our elevation is lower at only 1650ft. Summer temps get higher than 80F at lower elevations but the constant breeze at the higher elevations lowers the temps considerably especially in the valley slopes. Has anyone had success growing outside of their perfect range?

Greg Swann

I believe I have a pinon pine seedling growing on the border of my tilled garden area. I live in Central California about 20 miles east of El Paso de Robles, and in March of 2021, while tilling the garden area prior to planting, I noticed a spiral shaped, multi-needled plant emerging with a hard seed pod attached to the growing tip. I took photographs of it, not knowing what it was, and have encircled it with a wire cage to protect it from anilmals, wild children, etc. I kept the seed pod, which eventually separated into two halves, and have watched over and monitored the growth of what I now believe to be a pinon pine tree, which is NOT native to this area, and which I have no idea where it came from, unless it was deposited by an avian creature. For all I know, it could have been in my soil for YEARS before finally germinating. I would like to be able to submit photographs that I have taken so that your experts could possibly make a positive identification of this tree, with your permission, of course. Please contact me at my email address if you are interested. Thank you for your consideration!