Pinus pinea
Italian stone pine

Pinaceae (pine family)
Northern Mediterranean

An attractive tree of very characteristic round-topped shape without an apical leader which, one might say, looks like a stone.* More likely, the very hard-shelled nut accounts for the English name (the Italian name is pino domestico). In its natural distribution the tree hugs the entire north Mediterranean coast from Lebanon to Portugal. The needles are in twos, 5 to 8 inches long, while the cones are about 5 inches long with blunt scales. Widely planted around the world, including its native region, the stone pine cannot now be found in stands definitely known to be natural.

It is extensively used on campus, for example behind the church. An impressive older specimen (12 feet in girth) stands on Galvez Street outside the Burnham Pavilion, and another farther along Galvez Street in the lawn behind the Arrillaga Alumni Center. There is one at 762 Dolores Street. There are six old ones that used to shelter Roos Brothers men’s store in the 1950s between the Bookstore and 505 Lasuen Mall (which used to be the Career Development Center, and before that was the Bookstore and also accommodated a cobbler once upon a time). Three big specimens northwest of Green Earth Sciences that date back to expansion of the High Energy Physics Lab in the 1960s – and that already bear delicious nuts – were supplemented by a further seven when Green Earth Sciences was built.

Twenty large specimens planted in the Stone Pine Plaza at the Science and Engineering Quad in 1999 will form a splendid canopy and their first crop of pine nuts, when it comes, will be welcomed by squirrels and other rodents (the nuts are more or less inaccessible to birds).* Many pine seeds have significant wings that are clearly helpful in dispersing the seeds as they fall from the tree tops on windy days. By contrast, the heavy pine nut doffs its wing. This indicates that wind no longer plays a role in seed dispersal. Does this mean that the stone pine depends on running water to move the heavy seeds or does it mean that the collecting hand of woman superseded the breeze?*

Pinus monophylla, which grows from Eastern California into the Great Basin, and Pinus edulis, which grows in a few desert ranges in Southeastern California, yield a bountiful crop of nutritious kernels that provided a staple for Native Americans, and wild nuts are still collected today. The P. pinea nuts are known as pinóli, pignóli (which also means persnickety), or sometimes pinóchi, in Italy, where they are much used in pastries and vegetarian dishes. Evidently Pinocchio was a pine nut. The non-Italian word Pignolia is mentioned as a trade name in Webster’s Dictionary of 1929 and currently attaches to pine kernels imported from Pakistan and China.

Why should this pine be broad and rounded like a stone, while other pines are narrow and taper upwards to an apex? As a rule, flowering trees spread their crowns, while conifers tend to rise above them as conical spires; we may accept this distinction as one of the many differences, in leaves, fruit, and wood for instance. But why should a pine be not like other pines? Surely the stone pine evolved from ancestors that received sunlight falling from high in the sky, while other pines disposed their foliage on tall masts suited to collecting light from a sun that did not rise very much above the horizon.

Footnote

* Michael Geordie comments on Bracewell’s text: “An attractive tree of very characteristic round-topped shape without an apical leader which, one might say, looks like a stone. More likely, the very hard-shelled nut accounts for the English name” – it does have an apical leader when young, just that the branches are nearly as long; and the English name does derive from the stone-like seeds (c.f. “stone fruit” for cherries, plums, etc). “its natural distribution the tree hugs the entire north Mediterranean coast from Lebanon to Portugal” – probably native only on the Iberian Peninsula, only cultivated further east (Mirov, The Genus Pinus, 1967). “(the nuts are more or less inaccessible to birds) ... Does this mean that the stone pine depends on running water to move the heavy seeds or does it mean that the collecting hand of woman superseded the breeze?” – the seeds are bird-dispersed (Lanner, The Piñon Pine, 1981); at Stanford, the most likely disperser would be Western scrub jay.

· A simple key to campus pines

Name derivation: Pinus – Latin for pine; pinea – Latin for pine nut.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry (other than the Notes section) is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings subsequently added the footnote.