The Pinyon Pine

Pine Tree Growing Atop a Sandstone Formation in ZionThe Pinyon pine is one of the many conifers that line the forests, mountains, plains, and lowlands of the state of Colorado. This particular breed is quite easy to recognize from the short appearance and round shape. One of the slower growing trees in the area, this one can take up to a hundred years to produce even one cone.

Pinyon pines come in three different varieties. Although, the one most common to Colorado is the New Mexico Pine, also known as the two-needle pine. This specific Pinyon usually only reaches between 20 and 30 feet, but can grow to an astonishing 400-plus years old. Many times, this tree, because it is so short compared to other conifers, grows wider than tall, with radii of sometimes more than 15 feet.

These trees were often used by the Natives to build their homes. Some tribes put the pines to use when creating their dwellings on the cliffs of the Mesa. This was not the only use they found for the Pinyons. Many people actually took the pitch from these trees and made a kind of glue or caulk to hold things together.

The Pinyon pines produce one of the main edible nuts grown on Colorado conifers. These nuts provided sustenance and nutrition for the Natives, even during the harsh winters when other food sources were scarce. These nuts are not only good for eating they have an easier time germinating and growing than the smaller, lighter seeds of other similar trees. These denser seeds are often buried by animals or naturally make their way deep into the soil, allowing them to take root quickly and easily.

Like many other pines, the Pinyon is crucial to the survival of several woodland animals. Some such creatures are the Pinyon jay and Clark’s nutcracker. These and many other birds all rely on the pine for vital nutrients and shelter. The pines, likewise, rely on the birds, which take the pine seeds and bury them, keeping both species alive. Other animals, like mule deer, porcupines and more also gain a significant amount of their food supply from these trees.

For those individuals who might not know what exactly this conifer looks like, here are a few key things to look for when identifying a Pinyon pine. These particular pines have very sharp, curved, and thick needles. They generally come in bunches of two to three and are a lighter green or yellow color.

The cones of this tree, which start out green and sappy, eventually mature into larger brown cones with the edible seeds lodged inside. Unlike other pines, the Pinyons do not have a significantly large quantity of cones. With dark brown or reddish bark, this tree is certainly a beauty. The Pinyon pine, with all its surprising facets and characteristics, is certainly an essential native member of the Colorado forest systems.

By Jason Writz