Pinyon Pine Tree Guide: Nuts, Leaves, Seeds, Growing Zone (Easy Planting Tip)

Pinyon Pine Tree branches and needles image in an oval frame on green background.

Have you ever eaten a Pinyon Pine Tree nut?

This historic pine tree that is native to southwestern North America has played a long and interesting role in the history of the United States.

Pinyon pine tree guide, nuts, leaves, seeds, and growing zone, and unveils more information about a historic pine tree that is native to southwestern North America and has played a long and interesting role in the history of the United States.

Piñon Tree Facts (Pinyon Pine)

The Pinyon pine tree, or piñon pine as it is often spelled, is part of the Pinaceae family of conifer trees, Pinus Genus, that include cedars, firs, hemlocks, and spruces.

It grows prolifically in numerous states from elevations of 4,600 feet to 9,200 feet and relishes dry landscapes as it is incredibly drought resistant.

There are actually two types of Pinyon pine, distinguishable from each other by their needle-shaped leaves and the size of their acorns.

The common names are:

  • Two-needle Pinyon
  • Single-leaf Pinyon

And the scientific names are

Even though it is not the tallest or the grandest, the pinyon pine tree has become the most widely distributed pine tree in the United States due to its hardiness, its ability to grow in challenging environments, and the trails it has blazed relentlessly across the country over thousands of years.

Single Leaf Pinyon (Piñon Pine)

Pinus monophylla, the single-leaf pinyon, is unusual compared to other types of pine trees, of which there are 126, in that it only has one single needle that is directly attached to its stems.

Image of Single-Leaf Pine Tree in front of big rocks.

(Image: NPS photo by Robb Hannawacker10)

Most pine trees, even the Pinus edulis, have a minimum cluster of 2 leaves in bundles that are called fascicles, while some species of pine trees actually have 8 leaves clustered on each fascicle.

These fascicles offer an easy method of identifying a particular type of pine tree by the length of the leaves, the quantity, and even the color.

Mainly found in Arizona and Nevada, this species of the pinyon pine tree is classified in category 3 on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.2

Also known as the Red Book, this is a global comprehensive catalog of all the Earth’s biological species and rates them from Not Evaluated (number 1) to Extinct (number 9).

The Pinyon pine is rated in position number 3 which is categorized as of Least Concern (LC).

Pinyon Pine Tree Information: Nuts, Leaves, Seeds, Growing Zone

With there being so many species of pine trees, how is it possible to identify the pinyon pine tree from a Longleaf Pine (Pinus Palustris) or a Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana), or a Mugo Pine (Pinus Mugo)?

Without a doubt, it can be a challenge to differentiate one evergreen pine tree from another but with a little bit of knowledge and a keen eye, it is possible to put the clues together to know all the distinctive traits of which pine tree is now going to be your favorite.

Pinyon PineLongleaf PineSugar PineMugo Pine
Hardiness zoneUSDA 5 to 8USDA 7 to 9USDA 6 to 7USDA 3 to 7
NativeMexico and the USASouth of the USACalifornia, Mexico, Nevada, OregonEurope
Height10 to 30 feet60 to 100 feet100 to 200 feet3 to 6 ft(shrub)
10-25 ft(tree)
Needle size1 – 3 inches8 – 18 inches3 inches1 – 2 inches
Fascicles2 on each fascicle or 1 on the stem3 needles on each5 needles on each2 needles on each
BarkReddish-gray and crackedBrown, deeply crackedDeep brown and deeply furrowedGrayish-brown with shallow cracks
ConesSmall and roundWide and fairly largeVery large at sizes up to 12 X 22 inchesSmall and pointed

Pinyon Pine tree growth chart with Pinyon Pine tree age on the x-axis and Pinyon Pine tree height on the y-axis.

This is only a small comparison of the huge list of the different types of pine trees around the world. The distinguishing features differ quite widely between them, from sizes, where they can grow, how they blossom, and if the nuts are safe for human consumption.

Several Facts About Pinyon Pines With The Pinyon Pine Tree Guide: Nuts, Leaves, Seeds, Growing Zone

Among the Genus pinus family, the pinyon pine tree is the one that takes its time growing up and bearing fruit.3

Close up image of Pinyon Pine Cone and Leaves.

(Image: NPS photo by Renata Harrison11)

When a pinyon pine attains its full height of 30 feet it will likely be topped off with a rounded crown, but it will take over 10 years at the earliest to mature fully.

Fortunately, it won’t be necessary to wait that long to see the first emergence of the light brown cones but a wait of between 2 – 7 years should be expected.

However, there is some good news in that they are very long-lived.

The average lifespan is approximately 350 years, with the oldest recorded pinyon pine tree having been estimated to be 1,000 years old, and still growing.

So, even over an average lifespan of 350 years, a pinyon tree is going to yield tons of pine nuts. But there is one big problem. Climate change and sustainability.

Nuts have the highest water footprint of any cultivated crop in the world. On average, one pound of nuts requires 1197 gallons of water (equivalent to 15 bathtubs) to cultivate. And to go through the production process.

The inconsistency of when a harvest will be available also contributes to the unsustainable factor, and, worst still, a shortage of pine nuts can easily be one bad harvest away.

From year to year, and between states, there is what’s known as a boom-or-bust cycle where the size of the harvest can be spectacularly good or spectacularly bad.

Understandably, this can be quite disheartening for a farmer.

This is a typical feature of a ‘masting species’ in which most conifers are, one year overproducing, the next hardly any crops.

For an industry that relies on supply and demand, it can be quite problematic.

And when supply cannot meet the ever-increasing demand due to this unreliable and unpredictable growing issue, the pine nut can be a very expensive treat to the humble shopper in the United States.

Strangely enough, even though Colorado has the Pinus edulis as its State tree and has millions of pinyon trees growing locally, the majority of the pine nuts taking up shelf space in the stores are imported from China, Russia, and Korea.

How crazy is that?

Part of the answer reverts to the issue of unsustainability, deforestation, and the manual labor required to collect the pine nuts.

In their effort to supply 60% of the global demand for these nutty treats, China alone has resorted to clearing large swathes of land, displacing its local animal species and its inhabitants to make way for forests of pine trees to supply the North American and European markets.

Pinyon pine tree leaf identification chart showing single-leaf pinyon, two-needle pinyon, Mexican pinyon, Potosi pinyon, and Texas pinyon leaves in oval frames.

One of the issues with these massive farms, which cover millions of acres, is that the pine tree roots themselves are a source of concern. They have a tendency of encroaching into nearby shrublands and extracting as much water and nutrients as they need in order to grow.

If there is not enough water to share, being a dominant species, the pinyon pine tree will take it all slowly over the next several hundred years of its lifespan.4

Pinyon Pine Nut (Pinyon Pine Seeds)

One of the distinguishing features between the two Pinyon pine trees is that the nuts on the Pinus monophylla are larger than those on the two-leaf pinyon – and the nuts from both pinyon trees are edible.

All pine trees have acorns and nuts but only 29 of the 126 types of pine trees provide nuts that are edible, most of the other species producing seeds that are just too small and not worth the time and effort to harvest and eat.

Piñon seeds in Native American cuisine were a constant source of food and, along with early settlers, they took advantage of the pinyon pine tree and often feasted on the raw pine nuts to stave off starvation and supplement their diet.

Pinyon pine tree identification chart showing pinyon pine tree needles, pinyon pine tree seeds pinecone, pinyon pine tree flowers images in circle frames on a green background.

To help them digest the inner bark from the tree, which was a staple of their diet, they frequently soaked the thin needle leaves in boiling water to produce tea.

In fact, Piñon seeds were also eaten by local wildlife and the Native Indians used them for animal feed and utilized pretty much all parts of the tree for building purposes and healing poultices so nothing was wasted.

Today, many businesses grind the nuts down into a paste to make flour, specialty snacks, and empanadas, and when toasted whole they add a rich texture to any home dish or restaurant plate.

From a nutritional standpoint, the pinyon pine nut is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, jam-packed with vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper to name just a few.

They are also a rich source of fatty acids with a whopping 60% of healthy fats delivered with every bite of a crunchy nut along with 30% of protein, and all this gives the pinenut superstar status.

Whether raw or lightly toasted, they should be a staple addition to any healthy diet, although they do have a lot of calories.

Pinon Trees Colorado

The two‐needle pinyon tree is native to Colorado and has been adopted as the State national tree.5

Close up photo of Two-needle pinyon pine cone and leaves.

(Image: Patrick Alexander12)

There is a vegetation zone that covers thousands of acres at elevations from 4,000 – 8,000 feet called the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners region, where the Pinus edulis dominates the area extensively with the Utah Juniper tree.

A Native Indian tribe called the “ancient enemies” by the Navajo (translated to Anasazi but referred to as the Ancestral Puebloans) for centuries took advantage of the profusion of pinon trees around them for crafting, for firewood, for food, and even for clothing.

Even though the Ancestral Puebloans have mostly moved on from the area, the pinon pine persists, but it was almost devastated in the early 2000s.

That was the period when an unprecedented drought allowed the Ips Beetle to become an uncontrolled enemy in the region, a voracious enemy that the pinon tree just couldn’t fight off due to the serious lack of water.

Pinon trees are drought resistant in the harshest of conditions, but the water had become so scarce that the tree couldn’t even produce enough sap to fill the holes that the beetles were boring into the trunks.

During this period literally, thousands of Ips Beetles infested a single tree, devouring it from the inside out.

Within a short period of a month, the wear and tear became noticeable as the needles began to die and fall off, and then within a couple of years, the mortally wounded tree would keel over, consumed from the inside out.

Millions of pinon trees died in this fashion during these dry years and the effect could be easily witnessed in thousands of homes throughout Colorado at that time.

The Colorado Pinyon Pine Nut

Pine nuts are the second most expensive nut on the market, second only to the macadamia nut.

Close up photo of Colorado Pinyon Pine nuts and leaves.

(Image: Daderot13)

Even residents of Colorado have to pay the premium prices in the stores unless they take the time to venture into the nearby mountain ranges where they can get them for free, that is.

Every year, foragers from nearby cities as far away as Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, descend into the Colorado Plateau in the early summer months to crack open the cones that have naturally fallen to the ground and claim the seeds within.

Almost all pinyon trees grow in the wild due to the laborious and unpredictable nature of the nut-growing cycle rather than on commercial farmlands. And surprisingly, even in Colorado, most of the pine nuts sold locally in stores and supermarkets are imported from abroad.6

No business seriously cultivates pine nuts for wholesale purposes because of the labor-intensive nature of collecting the seeds and the years of patiently tending to the pinon trees without one even nut to show for it.

Undertaking this process would not be cost-effective from a business point of view, but for foragers who want to make a bit of money on the side as well as have some pine nuts for personal use, it’s a worthwhile pastime.

Selling the pine nuts they collect and prepare in the local marketplace is a pleasant hobby for them, a valuable product for the store owner, and a locally sourced treat for the inhabitants of Colorado.

Growing Pinyon Pine Trees (Pinyon Pine Tree Easy Planting Tips)

Due to the high price of keeping home shelves stacked with bags of pine nuts,  many homeowners are considering growing their own pinyon pine tree to have an endless supply of their favorite snacks on hand.

Pinyon pine trees revel in sunny, dry climates, but can also survive in areas with higher levels of rainfall.

The method of growing and nurturing a pinyon pine tree successfully is the same in either environment except that planting in soil that affords good drainage is crucial in wetter areas to prevent root rot.

Opting to grow from a seed is going to require about 10 years of patience before any edible nuts are available. Planting a seedling will reduce the waiting time but it will still take a few years before it bears fruit.

Growing From a SeedGrowing From a Seedling
1. Soak seeds overnight in a container1. Transplant a seedling of at least 16 inches in height
2. Wrap seeds in a paper towel and place them in a ziplock bag2. Ensure the area is well is well-drained so  it will not become water-logged
3. Wait until the tap root appears3. Plant in spring or in the fall in a location where the tree will receive the most sunlight
4. Place in the center of a container ¾ full of potting soil with the tap root facing down.4. Water once a month or twice in extremely hot conditions. Unnecessary in winter
5. Cover the seed with soil and water gently5. Spray with an insecticide to fight any beetle infestations
6. Place the container out of direct sunlight to protect the seed6. Fertilize for the first 3 years every 4 months if needed
7. Wait for the seedling to break through the thin topsoil – and for the first needle to grow7
8. When the seed husk is shrugged off, the new seedling is ready for transplanting
9. Transfer the seedling outside in a 1-gallon container with fresh soil
10. Water and place out of direct sunlight
11. When the small tree has sprouted to about 10 inches, it is ready to be planted
12. Place in a hole larger than the container, then cover with soil
13. Spray with an insecticide to fight any beetle infestations
14. Fertilize for the first 3 years every 4 months if needed

Two simple easy planting tips can ensure the success of your new green-fingered project. The first is to test the draining capacity of the hole where the tree is to be transplanted by pouring some water into it and timing over a 12-hour period how long it is before all the water has drained away; the quicker the better.

The second tip is to place enough topsoil in the bottom of the hole to cover the root of the seedling. This guarantees the roots a leg up in their new home as the topsoil will deliver more nutrients than the soil that has just been unearthed.

An Important point to remember for the care of this low-maintenance tree if it is planted in USDA zones 9, is that too much direct sunlight can cause the tree to become deciduous.

To avoid this, always transplant in an area where there will be protection from the sun in the afternoons.

It’s an amazing sight when, after all your efforts and care, the first few cones start to appear. And even though it will take between 2-3 years before the cone is mature enough to be harvested, the wait will be more than worth it.8

Traditional Method of Harvesting

The most basic method of harvesting the cones from the pinyon pine tree is simply knocking them off the branch with a long stick with a hook attached to the end. It’s effective, doesn’t damage the tree, and gives a good workout.

Lower branches can be shaken by hand so the cones either fall to the ground or onto a blanket. Gloves should be worn to prevent the sticky resin from coating unprotected hands as the stain is hard to wash off and near impossible to wash out of clothes.

Shelling and Storing Pinyon Seeds

Once the seeds have been shaken loose from the slightly opening cones, the shelling process can begin. To crack the nuts free. any heavy object can be used as long as it won’t damage the nut within.

First-timers will quickly come to realize that not all the seeds will have a nutty prize secreted away inside. Any seeds that are a very light brown will be empty vessels, while the darker seeds will be the ones worth the effort of cracking open.

Any seeds with tiny holes in them should be immediately discarded as this is a clear sign that hungry insects have burrowed inside and beaten you to the nut.

After shelling, the new kernels can either be stored directly in a dry container, refrigerated, frozen so they will stay preserved for months, or roasted in an oven for 10 minutes or longer. As soon as the aroma of buttered toast starts wafting from the oven, they’re ready to be taken out, set aside to cool, and then munched on at your leisure.

This Pinyon Pine tree guide including Pinyon pine nuts, leaves, seeds, growing zone options shows just how important this tree has been throughout the centuries, and how its pine nuts have become a nutritious snack enjoyed around the globe.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pinyon Pine Tree

Where Is the Pinyon Pine Growing Zone?

The growing zone for the two-leaf pinyon pine tree is USDA 5-8 and for the single-leaf, it is USDA 6-8.

Where Do Pinon Nuts Grow?

Pinon nuts grow in Arizona, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Southwestern North America, Idaho, and New Mexico.

How Much Carbon Does a Pinon Tree Sequester?

A mature pinon tree will sequester 0.13 tons of CO2 per day. One hectare of 1,000 trees will help the fight against climate change by absorbing 10 tons of carbon dioxide annually.9

How Much To Cut Down a Foot Pine Tree?

A 50-foot pine tree will cost roughly $800-$1,500 to remove while a 100-foot pinyon pine tree could squeeze up to $5,000 out of your credit card.


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2Tethys. (2023). International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Tethys. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

3City of Portland, Oregon. (2019, May 22). Pines. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

4U.S. Department of Interior. (2015, February 24). Pinyon Pine Tree. National Park Service. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

5U.S. Department of Interior. (2021, September 4). Colorado Pinyon. National Park Service. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

6Wion, A. (2022, March 30). Why use locally sourced pine nuts? It’s a matter of a piñon. Colorado State University | School of Global Environmental Sustainability. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

7Alabama Forestry Commission. (2011, May 6). Planting Pine Seedlings. Alabama Forestry Commission. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

8Feldman, L. (2020, April 28). I’m Glad You Asked: Pine Cones. UC Botanical Garden. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

9Buis, A. (2019, November 7). Examining the Viability of Planting Trees to Help Mitigate Climate Change. NASA Global Climate Change. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from <>

10NPS photo by Robb Hannawacker. Flickr. Retrieved from <>

11NPS photo by Renata Harrison. Flickr. Retrieved from <>

12Patrick Alexander. Flickr. Retrieved from <>

13Pinus edulis – Red Butte Garden and Arboretum – DSC07530 Photo by Daderot/ CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Resize and Change Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 4, 2024, from <>

14Featured Image: Close-up photo of green tree Photo by Art Lasovsky (2018, January 9) / Unsplash License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved February 1, 2024, from <>