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What Are Pinyon Trees?

Pinyon trees are also commonly known as pinyon pine. There are two species of pinyon pine: Pinus edulis (two-needle pinyon) and Pinus monophylla (single-leaf pinyon). Pinyon trees can live in warm and dry desert climates as well as cold and dry mountainous climates. Varieties are primarily found in the southwestern United States: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.

What Does a Pinyon Tree Look Like?

Sometimes classed as a shrub, these trees seldom reach heights beyond 20 feet tall. They’re a perennial evergreen tree, keeping their vivid green colors, leaves (needles), and shape throughout the year. You can also identify the pinyon tree by its two prongs of rigid, dark green needles that are usually about an inch in length. Some subspecies, however, form needles in bunches of five or as a single needle.

Younger trees can easily keep a conical shape, while older trees can grow to have a crown that’s wider and flatter. They can eventually grow to be as wide as they are tall. According to Utah State University, you can also identify them by their cones. Male cones form in 20 to 40 dark red, purple, or yellow cone clusters, while purple female cones form individually and mature into scaly brown cones that look like roses.

Why Should I Have a Pinyon Tree in My Yard?

There are many different types of pine trees, and a pinyon tree is one kind of pine tree you might consider for your landscaping plan. They are easy to care for and require very little maintenance. Plus, they live for a very long time—over 600 years in some cases—a great way to leave an arboreal legacy. Being resilient to drought, pinyon pines can survive on an average accumulated rainfall of about 15 inches, reducing the need for regular watering. Because they can survive on little water, they thrive being planted on a hill, away from where rainwater might pool, as this can cause root damage. They’re also a great addition to rock gardens.

This type of tree also rarely needs to be pruned, but when they’re young, pruning can be used to shape them. Once the trees mature, they benefit from having dead or damaged limbs removed. You can do this yourself, or you can hire a trained arborist to do it for you—if you’re in the Portland, Oregon, area, Mr. Tree Services will even remove the tree waste. This can be particularly helpful because, though a pinyon tree is robust against disease and pests, one pest, the Ips beetle, likes to breed in newly cut pinyon brush or rotted wood from overwatering.

Pinyon pine trees can thrive in just about any type of soil as long as it’s in an area that drains well. Full sun is the best for healthy growth. About six hours of unfiltered sun daily is ideal so consider planting them where they can get plenty of morning or afternoon sunlight. And fertilizer is usually unnecessary.

What Uses Does a Pinyon Pine Have?

Quite a few, actually!

For the casual forager

Pinyon pines are a great resource for animal wildlife. Being a conifer and producing myriad pine cones, which are sophisticated seeds, they use the wind for pollination—no need to be transported by animals (although, some animals will bury and store the seeds, which later sprout, forming new trees). Many animals, such as squirrels and chipmunks, deer, black bears, quail, and some songbirds, do eat from the tree.

Pinus edulis trees have seeds humans can eat—“edulis” means “edible.” These are called pine nuts—yes, they are what you would use to make pesto for your pasta. Pine nuts can be ground or whole and roasted or eaten raw. Have you ever wondered why pine nuts are so expensive? This is because a sporadic crop for harvesting occurs every four to seven years, depending on moisture levels.

For their fragrance

Pinyon trees are versatile, as they’re drought-resistant, hearty plants that can be potted and used as live Christmas trees to be kept indoors. They’re known for a strong and pleasant fragrance, which makes for a festive holiday decoration. With such a pleasing aroma, pinyon pine trees are also favored for firewood indoors for fireplaces or outdoors in a campfire or potbelly stove. Pinyon pine cones can be ground up to make incense. Their scented oil is also used as a disinfectant or mild antiseptic, commonly used in cleaning products.

For their health benefits

Some people may have skin irritation from pine trees, however, the resin and gum from a pinyon tree can be used as a protective covering for cuts, sores, or other skin complaints. Parts of a pinyon pine can also be used as a remedy for respiratory issues or as an expectorant. Traditionally, pinyon trees were used to make an American Indian pine needle tea. Pine nuts contain significant amounts of calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, and zinc.

For aesthetic qualities

Pinyon pines also work well for ornamental usage. They can be planted in a rock bed or used in practicing the Japanese art of bonsai. These trees have incredibly long lives (some have been known to live for at least 600 years), and because of their slow growth and lack of height, pinyon trees can be a beautiful addition to your yard for years, without dominating it. It’s not uncommon for a pinyon tree to only be 7 feet tall after 60 years.

If you still aren’t sure whether a pinyon tree is right for your landscaping needs or you would like other advice, contact us at Mr. Tree. We’re happy to consult with you.