The Torrey pine is a rare species of pine tree restricted to just two regions in the United States: It grows only on an island off the California coast and in parts of San Diego County. The tree produces a nut called a pinon nut that is edible but hard. The Torrey pine has a dense and bushy crown, according to “Trees of North America.” San Diego's Torrey Pines Golf Course is famous the world over not only for quality of the course, but for the unique beauty of its layout and the Torrey pines that grow there.
The Torrey pine can grow to heights of 100 feet, but the majority of trees will be between 40 and 60 feet tall with a trunk diameter from one to two feet. The needles grow in bundles of five and reach lengths as long as 11 inches.The needles are a dark shade of green and the color of the bark on a Torrey pine tree is reddish brown. The bark contains deep fissures and scales.
The Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs and Vines site says no other pine tree species on the planet exists in a smaller habitat than does the Torrey pine. One population of the tree, which may actually be a distinct subspecies, grows on Santa Rosa Island. The other separate population of Torrey pines exists in the coastal chaparral region north of La Jolla, California.
The Torrey pine typically will grow in a contorted manner, because of its constant exposure to the winds and salt spray that come off the ocean. Many of these trees grow from rocky cliffs and outcroppings. The tree has the ability to put down a long taproot and elaborate system of roots. The Blue Planet Biomes website states that a Torrey pine just 40 feet high is capable of having a 200-foot-long network of roots and that even the small seedlings will have a taproot in the range of 24 inches long.
Cones and Pine Nuts
The chocolate-colored pine cones that the Torrey pine produces have thick scales that end in a triangle with a point. The cones are between four and six inches in length and take as long as three years to mature fully. Inside the cone is an edible nut that you risk breaking your teeth upon if you attempt to chew on it. The nuts will fall from the cones in the fall season of the cone’s third year but the cones can stay on a Torrey pine for many years before finally falling off.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website says only a few thousand Torrey pines now exist in the wild, with many of these in the boundaries of the Torrey Pines States Park north of San Diego. The Torrey pine makes a good shade tree when cultivated, growing much faster in a warm damp climate than it does in its coastal ecosystem. The tree adapts easily to poor soil and withstands droughts. The female flowers in a Torrey pine grow in the upper branches, while the male flowers grow in the limbs lower down on the same tree.