Pinus torreyana / Torrey pine

subgenus Pinus, section Trifoliae (Duhamel), subsection Sabinianae (Loudon).

John Torrey
John Torrey

Pinus torreyana, as described in 1855 by Charles Christopher Parry (1823–1890) ex Elie-Abel Carrière (1818–1896), in Traité Général des Conifères, is commonly known as Torrey pine, or Soledad, lone or Del Mar pine. The species name honors John Torrey (1796 - 1873), the American botanist to whom Charles Perry sent the original herbarium specimens with accompanying descriptions for publication.

Ethnobotany. The pine nuts were an important food for the Kumeyaay tribe and the Chumash nations of indigenous American people. Pinus torreyana has been considered as a plantation tree for forestry use in Australia, New Zealand and Kenya. Under cultivation, on richer soils with higher rainfall or supplemental irrigation, the Torrey pine is capable of fast growth to a large size.

artwork by University of South Florida
artwork by University of South Florida

Description. Torrey pine is an evergreen, coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 50 feet (15 m) with a naturally crooked and leaning trunk up to 40 inches (100 cm), in diameter, measured at breast height; but tall and straight in planted stands and ornamentals; crown is rounded to flattened and irregular.

  • Bark is red-brown to purple-red in color, and deeply furrowed with irregular, elongate, flat, scaly ridges.
  • Branches grow irregularly, spreading-ascending, resembling a candelabra. Leaves clustered near branch tips, giving a tufted appearance.
  • Twigs are stout, measuring 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1 - 2 cm) thick, green in color when young, aging deep gray-brown, with a rough texture.
  • Leaves (needles) are mostly borne 5 per fascicle, growing ascending or spreading, persisting 3-4 years on the tree. Individual needles measure 8 to 12 inches (20 - 30 cm), by 0.08 inch (2 mm) thick, growing straight or curved, with a slight twist, colored dark green, with all surfaces bearing fine stomatal lines, serrulate margins, and an abruptly acute apex.
  • Foliar sheaths measuring up to 0.8 inch (2 cm) long; shed early with a persistent base.
  • Foliar buds are conically ovoid shaped, pale brown in color, and up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long with white-fringed scale margins.
  • Pollen cones are ovoid shaped, 0.8 to 1.2 inches (20 - 30 mm) long, and yellow in color.
  • Seed Cones are borne lateral on the shoots, attached by 1.6-inch long peduncles. They are massive, heavy, and symmetrically ovoid before opening; and broadly ovoid when open. Individual cones measure 4 to 6 inches (10 - 15 cm) long, lustrous yellow- to red-brown in color; maturing in 3 years, shedding seeds soon thereafter, and persisting up to 5 years on the tree.
  • Cone scales have thick, angulately dome-shaped apophyses, with 5 low convergent keels. Umbos are central, forming a short, curved-tipped pyramid.
  • Seeds are narrowly obovoid shaped, with a brown (apically dark brown), 0.64 to 0.96 inch (16 - 24 mm) long body; attached wings are broad, with a oblique tip, up to (0.6 inch (15 mm) long.
natural range of <em>Pinus torreyana </em>
natural range of Pinus torreyana

Distribution. This species is native to USA — California — the Pacific coast at Del Mar in San Diego County, and the east end of Santa Rosa Island with Channel Islands National Park, growing from immediately above the high tide mark to about 600 feet (180 m) above sea level on rocky or sandy slopes. On these sites it seems dependent on the daily fog that comes in from the ocean in the afternoon, mitigating the heat of the sun and the resulting excessive evapo-transpiration. It grows with a sparse chaparral and few other trees; in ravines sometimes accompanied by a few oaks (Quercus sp.) and Arbutus menziesii.

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

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

Pinus torreyana growing in habitat in Torrey Pines State Reserve, La Jolla, San Diego, California.
Photo by TheNose at Flickr, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Windswept Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana) at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla, California.
Photo by David Rasch
Pinus torreyana — foliage and seed cone in situ.
Photo by By nautical2k via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
A grove of Pinus torreyana growing in its typical habitat on southern California chaparral.
Photo by C.J. Earle
Pinus torreyana — bark detail.
Photo by C.J. Earle
Pinus torreyana — pollen cone detail.
Photo by M. Ritter, W. Mark and J. Reimer
Pinus torreyana — foliar shoot and female flower.
Photo by Virginia Tech Dendrology
Pinus torreyana — showing crown and branch structure.
Photo by Sam Felder via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Pinus torreyana — foliage detail.
Photo by Saint Mary's College of California


Wayne Tyson

I spent a day from sunup to sundown at the Torrey pines woodland stand near San Diego in 1957, now partially protected as a California State Natural Reserve. I am now involved with an effort to restore some of that habitat where it was destroyed sometime in the past. It is now the property of the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and a (paleo-) cultural resource site.

It is important that we confirm the historic distribution of this species and its associated organisms prior to its destruction (probably by, or with the permission of, federal, state, and local government agencies. There is, at present, a golf course, science park, and university campus on nearby land that perhaps once was a part of the Torrey pines woodland and/or closely associated habitats. We would like to know of any relevant links or references that might confirm or deny that conjecture, so that we can review it and plan the scope of our study accordingly. Early photos would be a great help.

Thanks to all for any suggestions and assistance.

Wayne Tyson

Daniel Becker

Hi Wayne, I am an undergraduate at UCSD preparing for a senior research project in my major of Urban Studies and Planning, and I am thinking of researching some aspect of the Torrey pine species and its relevance, or lack there of, in San Diegan urban development over time. I am very interested in the restoration project you are involved with and would love to hear more about its specificities. please email me [email protected] if you can, thank you kindly.

Daniel Becker