Nevada loved trees so much that it declared two different species of pine as the official state tree in the 20th century. In 1953 the state assembly approved the single pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla), and in 1987 the designation was also given to the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). The single pinyon pine is much more common across vast areas of central Nevada, while the Great Basin bristlecone pine is found in a few, isolated areas in the southern parts of the state. The rarer bristlecone occurs alongside the single pinyon pine at higher elevations across the region.
Single pinyon (piñon) pine may also be called the Frémont pine or Nevada nut pine. The Great Basin bristlecone pine also carries alternative names, including the intermountain bristlecone or the ancient pine. More importantly, a synonymous botanical name for the tree is Pinus aristata var. longaeva. This designation helps distinguish it from the Colorado bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata var. aristata) which is not native to Nevada.
The single pinyon pine grows slowly into a dome-shaped conifer. Its mature height is 15 to 30 feet and its width varies to as much as 20 feet. The Great Basin bristlecone pine forms a dense canopy, often with gnarled branches. This species grows potentially to 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide.
According to the Gymnosperm Database, the oldest specimen record for a single pinyon pine was located in 2007. Its origins were dated to around the year 1100 A.D. and continues to grow in the Pilot Range in Nevada. The reference also reveals that the Great Basin bristlecone pine readily survives over 4,000 years. In fact, in Wheeler Park, Nevada, a fallen bristlecone was examined in the 1990s and found to be 4,844 years old at time of death.
The single pinyon pine is so-named because it typically produces singular needles (rarely a paired cluster of needles). The gray-green needles are long-lived and persistent on the orange twig shoots, measuring 3/4 to 2 inches long. The female pine cones are yellow-beige and bear large wingless seeds.
The Great Basin bristlecone pine bears its glossier gray-green needles in clusters of fives (sometimes threes or fours). The inner sides of the needles in the clusters are whitish. Needles measure a little more than 1 inch long. The female cones are oval and rust-colored and bear small, brittle prickles on each cone scale.
Appropriately for the pride of Nevada, the world's largest specimen of both its state trees reside in the state. The biggest single pinyon pine grows in Washoe County, according to the Gymnosperm Database. As of 2008, its trunk diameter measured 54 inches, it stood 51 feet tall, and its canopy spread nearly 53 feet. The largest Great Basin bristlecone pine grows just outside of Las Vegas on Mount Charleston. Based on measurements taken in 2004, it boasts a single trunk diameter of 146 inches and is 53 feet tall.