Twoneedle Pinyon (Edulis)

The Twoneedle Pinyon (Edulis) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are retained year to year. The Twoneedle Pinyon (Edulis) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Twoneedle Pinyon (Edulis) will reach up to 50 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 25 feet.

The Twoneedle Pinyon (Edulis) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -31°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

The edible nuts of pinyon and are in demand because of their delicate flavor and are probably the most commercially valuable product of the species. Pinyon ranks first among the native nut trees that are not also cultivated. The nuts are commonly sold and eaten after roasting in the shell, but small quantities are sold raw. They were once a staple food of Southwestern Indians. Local residents now harvest quantities for the local and gourmet market, but they are in competition with many wild animals that also seek the nuts as food.

Pinyon nuts are a preferred food for turkeys, pinyon jays, woodrats, bears, and other wildlife, and they are a common food for deer, particularly during harsh winters with deep snows. Pinyon-juniper woodlands provide habitat for a varied wildlife population, including mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, desert cottontail, mountain cottontail, and wild turkey.

Poor growth form and small size of two-needle pinyon has limited its use for sawn products. Specialized woodworking shops use the wood for novelties, and small sawmills produce mine timbers and railroad ties. Two-needle pinyon has been used for pulping in the Southwest, but only to alleviate shortages of normally used mill-residue chips and pulpwood of other species. It has been widely used for fuel since the pitchy wood has a higher heat value than any of its associates except the oaks and burns with a pleasing aroma. It is also occasionally processed for charcoal.

Pinyons have been cut for private and commercial use for Christmas trees. These beautiful little trees are slow growing but should be more widely used for ornamental purposes. Two-needle pinyon is the state tree of New Mexico.

General Characteristics

General: Pine Family (Pinaceae). Native shrubs or trees growing 5-12(-21) meters tall, with a strongly tapering trunk, single-stemmed and tallest at higher elevations, multi-stemmed, bushy and sprawling on lower sites, the crown usually compact, rounded and spreading. Bark is reddish-brown, shallowly and irregularly furrowed. Needles are evergreen, 2 per bundle, less commonly 1 or 3, 2-4 cm long, upcurved, yellow-green to blue-green, mostly 2-3-sided, all surfaces with pale stomatal bands, the margins smooth or finely toothed. Seed cones about (3.5) 4(5) cm long at maturity, ovoid before opening, depressed-ovoid to nearly globose when open, short-stalked to nearly sessile. Seeds mostly ellipsoid to obovoid 10-15 mm long, light brown, wingless. The seeds rest in a deep depression on each cone scale and a flap of tissue holds them in place, so the seeds are readily available to birds. The common name represents a species of pinyon pine producing two needles per bundle. The Spanish “piñon” refers to the large seed (pine in Spanish is “pino”).

Variation within the species: the California outlier of two-needle pinyon has been considered a distinct species, California Pine (Pinus californiarum) (Bailey 1987), or a population of 2-needled trees of single-leaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla var. californiarum). Pinus edulis var. fallax is seen by some to combine features of P. edulis and P. monophylla – but it has most recently been treated as part of other species (P. californiarum subsp. fallax; P. monophylla var. fallax). The differences in opinion regarding these species of pinyon pine are further reflected in the observation that even the typical form of P. edulis has been treated as a variety of both P. monophylla and P. cembroides. Naturally occurring hybrids have been reported between two-needle pinyon and single-leaf pinyon in several areas.

Required Growing Conditions

Southwestern United States, in southern California (rare), the intermountain region (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico), to western Oklahoma (rare) and western Texas, and south into Chihuahua, Mexico. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: Dry mountain slopes, mesas, plateaus, growing scattered in open woodlands at 1200-2450 (-2700) meters elevation, in pure stands, or commonly mixed with one or more of several species of juniper. Two-needle pinyon is one of the most slow-growing and drought-resistant species of pines, requiring only 12-18 inches of rainfall a year, but it grows best on the higher, wetter sites, just below the zone of ponderosa pine.

Planting: Trees may begin producing cones when 25 years of age but produce significant quantities of seed only after reaching 75-100 years old. Good seed crops occur every 4 to 7 years (on average) or more frequently on better sites, and cone bearing tends to be synchronous over large geographical areas. Germination is generally above 80%.

A relationship of mutual benefit exists between two-needle pinyon and four species of corvid birds: Clark’s nutcracker, Steller’s jay, scrub jay, and pinyon jay. These birds are the primary agents of dispersal of this pine, which provides a large portion of their diet and subsistence, but only the scrub jay and pinyon jay cache seeds in the pinyon-juniper zone and are responsible for its regeneration.

Seed germination and establishment of the two-needle pinyon are best in the shade of trees or shrubs and probably depend on an adequate moisture supply during the first summer. Growth through all stages is extremely slow. Dominant trees in a stand are often 400 years old, and individuals 800-1000 years old have been found.

General Upkeep and Control

Grazing pressure by sheep and goats greatly reduces the regenerative capacity of the two-needle pinyon and huge areas of pinyon-juniper woodlands have been extensively cattle-grazed. Range improvement practices to increase forage for wildlife and livestock have removed the trees over large areas. Woodland watersheds also have been mechanically cleared or chemically treated in the past, but future treatments may be limited to specific areas, because the possibility of generally increasing water yield does not appear promising.

Compared to pinyon pines, junipers have deeper root penetration and drought resistance and will dominate regeneration for up to 70 years after severe disturbance at a site. If small junipers and pines survive a less severe disturbance, the site may be naturally reforested after 2-3 decades.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 50
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -31
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants Yes
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6.5–8.5 pH
Precipitation Range 9–9 inches/yr
Planting Density 170–600 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 200 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Medium
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA