Learn More about California’s Native Pine Species

pine species

Marin is famed for its proliferation of trees. Surprisingly, though, Marin hosts only one native pine: bishop pine, characterized by strongly reflexed (turned backwards) cones down its branches, which reduces squirrel predation and cone damage due to fire. In various places where this pine species grows, like Marin, legends, beliefs and folklore surround the tree. Pine trees are thought to symbolize peace, fertility and winter; many Native Americans, including the Miowk, believed these stately trees stood for wisdom and longevity, and they used pines to treat respiratory conditions and for food and canoe-building. Today pines are valuable timber sources for construction; pine oil’s relaxing scent has become popular in aromatherapy; and smaller grown specimens are sold as Christmas trees. Besides being volatile kindle for wildfires, pines have another less desirable feature: needle drop. Stress from insufficient water, pests and disease, or too much sun can cause excess shedding. And while pines are sometimes considered messy needle-litterers, they continue to be a symbolic tree for Marin and for the holiday season. All pine trees, native and nonnative, provide windbreak, shade, coverage and nutrient-dense seeds for birds and other wildlife.

Most popular California native pines:

Pinus muricata Bishop pine. The only pine native to Marin. Grows to 40 feet.
Pinus torreyana Torrey pine. The rarest pine species in the U.S. Grows between 25 and 150 feet.
Pinus coulteri Coulter pine. It has the world’s heaviest pinecones, which weigh up to eight pounds each (don’t camp under it!). Grows between 20 and 80 feet.
Pinus attenuata Knobcone pine. This pine has its cones right along the trunk in knobs instead of at the branch ends like most pines. The cones persist for so long that the tree can actually grow around them, making it “the tree that swallows its cones.” Grows between 30 and 80 feet.
Pinus radiata Monterey pine. Fossil evidence shows this pine existed in California 15 million years ago. Also, small stock is used for Christmas trees. Grows between 50 and 100 feet.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Pine Points”.