Pinyon Pine – Pinus edulis (Pinus cembroides edulis)

            The Pinyon Pine has several advantages over other evergreen trees in a Colorado landscape. For one thing, its size doesn’t consume so much horizontal space. Compare the modest mature Pinyon at 10’-15’ in diameter with Austrian or Ponderosa at 25’-35’ diameter or Blue Spruce at 30’-40’ diameter. A few of these “average” sized evergreens look innocent when freshly planted, but who hasn’t seen them blocking sidewalks and doorways, tearing off gutters and shading solar collectors and windows in the winter? The Pinyon with its gently rounded top only gets 12’-20’ high, which suffices for many screening needs and still leaves the view. If it isn’t crowded, it stays branched to the ground with dense foliage of short, medium green to gray-green needles, two to a bundle. The cones are small 1 1/2”-2” long, brown to reddish-brown, which open to a rosette form and in the wild yield Pinyon “nuts”. These seeds are good-tasting and oily, with a piney flavor much appreciated by birds, animals and humans. They are also nutritious, being higher in protein and carbohydrates than pecans, but lower in fat. For some reason , these “nuts” are unlikely to develop in small urban plantings.

            Pinyon Pine is a very resinous tree, as one finds out through pruning or picnics, when one also discovers the delicious smell of its needles and sap. Pinyon smoke aroma has made the wood popular for firewood and for cooking. This popularity has become unfortunate since each tree is too small, especially in the wild, to yield much firewood and a 6” diameter tree can be 100 years old. In the right place, a Pinyon can live for 250 years.

            Pinus edulis is a native of the Southwest U.S. and southern Colorado, and is the state tree of New Mexico. At trials done at CSU in Ft. Collins, it has proved cold-hardy and tolerant of our alkaline soils with overall good health. It experiences only minor problems with Pinyon Tip Moth and gall midge, however in overwatered (especially heavy clay) soils, Pinyon can have bad problems with Pinyon “pitch-mass” Borer. This boring larva can be partly controlled by piercing with a flexible wire down the holes or by fumigating with moth ball crystals in the holes; but spacious siting, good drainage and low watering are the best solutions. Pinyon Pine is very drought-tolerant, needing only 6”-10” of water per year. This means that in our climate, it never needs watering once established.

            George Kelly in his Rocky Mt. Horticulture puts Pinyon Pine in the chapter “Tough Plants for Spots Where ‘Nothing’ Grows”, and indeed it survives and thrives in intense sun, wind and drought and lean soil to 7000’+. So for a very tough, smaller evergreen where it won’t be overwatered, Pinyon Pine is a good choice.

January 1998