Pinus pinea / Italian stone pine

subgenus Pinus, section Pinus, subsection Pinaster (Mayr ex Koehne).


Pinus pinea, first described in 1753 by Carolus Linnæus (1707–1778), is commonly known as Italian stone pine, stone pine, Mediterranean stone pine, umbrella pine; as well as Pinheiro manso in the Portuguese language; as pino piñonero, pino manso, pino doncel, pino albar in Spanish; pin parasol, pin pignon in French; as pi pinyer, pi pinyoner, pi para-sol, pi bo, pi ver in Catalan; Pinu granatu in Corsican; pino domestico in Italian; κουκουναριά in Greek; pinija in Serbian; as Fıstık çamı Turkish; אורן הצנובר in Hebrew; as well as صنوبر ثمري in Arabic. This tree is famous for its production of large, oily seeds, loved world-wide as pine nuts, or pinea in the Latin language, hence the species name.

Ethnobotany. This conifer has been cultivated extensively for at least 6,000 years for its edible pine nuts, which have been trade items since early historic times. The tree has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region for so long that it has naturalized, and is often considered native beyond its natural range.

Small specimens are used for Bonsai, and also grown in large pots and planters. The year-old seedlings in juvenile foliage stage are seasonally available as 8 to 12 inch (20 – 30 cm) tall table-top Christmas trees.

Other products of economic value include resin, bark for tannin extraction, and empty pine cone shells for fuel. Pinus pinea is also currently widely cultivated around the Mediterranean for environmental protection such as consolidation of coastal dunes, soil conservation and protection of coastal agricultural crops.

artwork by Buscar con Google
artwork by Buscar con Google

Description. Italian stone pine is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 40 to 80 feet (12 - 25 m) with an often short and commonly slightly sinuous trunk. The crown of a mature tree highly distinctive with a shape shared only by P. nelsonii of northeastern Mexico, globose and shrubby when young, later domed and becoming very broad, low-rounded with age; not conic except in first two years from seed.

  • Branches are long, rising at 30°-60° angles above horizontal; branch tips are upswept to vertical.
  • Bark is thick, plated, deeply fissured, red-brown to orange in color with blackish edges to the plates.
  • Shoots are usually uninodal, very rarely multinodal on vigorous young trees; moderately rough and stout, colored yellow-buff, with persistent decurrent scale-leaf bases.
  • Foliar buds are ovoid-acute in shape, 0.28 to 0.8 inch (7 - 20 mm) long, with red-brown scales and long free tips, revolute and fringed with white hairs.
  • Adult leaves (needles) are borne in fascicles of two, medium-green in color, retained on the tree for 2 to 4 years, with a persistent 0.4 to 0.6 inch (1 - 1.5 cm) sheath. Individual needles measure 4 to 7.2 inches (10 - 18 cm) long by about 0.06 inch (1.5 mm) thick, with serrulate margins and fine lines of stomata on both faces.
  • Juvenile leaves are glaucous, 0.6 to 1.6 inches (1.5 - 4 cm) long, and continue to be produced for 3 to 10 years, mixed with the first adult leaves from the third year.
  • Seed cones develop on short stout peduncles, and are symmetrical, broadly ovoid to globose, measuring 3.2 to 4.8 inches (8 - 12 cm) long by 2 to 4.4 inches (5 - 11 cm) broad when closed, resembling a children's comic idea of a hand-grenade. Cones are green in color, ripening shiny chestnut-brown in April three years after pollination (the longest maturation period of any pine).
  • Seed scales are broad, thick, woody, and very stiff. Apophyses are bulbous, 0.6 to 0.8 inch (15 - 20 mm) long and wide, smoothly rounded. Due to the three-year maturation process, the dorsal gray-buff umbo is double, with an inner umbo (first year's growth) and a concentric outer umbo developing in year two. The inner umbo has a very short stout reflexed mucro.
  • Seeds are pale brown, thickly covered with a black, soot-like powder. Each measures 0.6 to 0.8 inch (15 - 20 mm) long by (0.4 inch (10 mm) wide, with a loosely attached vestigial 0.12 to 0.32 inch (3 - 8 mm) yellow-buff wing. The cones open on ripening or up to a year later, invariably shedding all the infertile basal scales to allow the fertile scales to open more widely; the large seeds are dispersed by birds, mainly Cyanopica cyanus (azure-winged magpie), and in the last 6,000+ years, by humans, which has considerably extended the pine's distribution.
natural range of <em>Pinus pinea</em>
natural range of Pinus pinea

Distribution. Prior to the anthropogenic range expansions of the last few thousand years stone pine was probably confined to the Iberian Peninsula, the only area where it is found away from ancient trade routes. It is said to be "impossible to determine its natural range." The species is an archaeophyte (unrecorded introductions by early man) throughout the Mediterranean, and more recently has been naturalized in South Africa — Cape province and in other regions with Mediterranean climates, such as California. Among other places, it occurs in Croatia, Italy and Spain.

P. pinea thrives in coastal sandy areas with moist but well-drained soils and little temperature variation. It is sensitive to environmental disturbance and difficult to regenerate.

Hardy to USDA Zone 8 — cold hardiness limit between 10° and 20°F (-12.1° and -6.7°C).

Attribution from: D.M. Richardson (editor); Ecology and Biogeography of Pinus; ©1998, Cambridge University Press.

Pinus pinea — growing in habitat.
Photo by Tree Seed Online, ltd.
Pinus pinea — one of the world's most famous trees at Ravello near Napoli, Italy.
Photo by M.P. Frankis
Pinus pinea — bark detail.
Photo by Leoboudv, via Wikipedia; Public Domain photo.
Pinus pinea — a mature cone with seeds.
Photo by Franck Miguel
Pinus pinea — foliage and seed cones in situ.
Photo by Jan van der Straaten
Pinus pinea in the Gotelli Collection at The U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C., May 2006.
Photo by Dax Herbst
Pinus pinea — foliage and pollen cones in situ.
Photo by Jan van der Straaten