Singleleaf Pinyon Pine

Common Names:
Singleleaf Pinyon Pine, Pinon Pine, Nut Pine
Scientific name:
Pinus monophylla
Pinus californiarum, Pinus edulis var. fallax, Pinus monophylla var. californiarum
Elevation range:
3,000 - 10,000 ft.
Height | Length:
15-65 ft.
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
Pollinator or food source for:
Monoecious, Wind pollinated, Food for birds, Nesting place for birds
Ancestral Usage:
food, basketry/tools, fuel
State Occurrences:
Desert region:
Mojave, Sonoran

Singleleaf Pinyon pines are slow growing species of Pinus. They grow only 2 inches per year as seedlings, gaining a maximum of 12 inches per year as a mature tree. They require the least amount of rain of any other pine, between 8-18 inches per year and are relatively small in comparison to other pines attaining heights of a maximum of 65 feet. The oldest individuals can live to be 600 years old. In the Desert Southwest (the southern end of their range) they grow on north-facing slopes for protection from sun.

Singleleaf pine seeds are wingless and thus depend on wildlife for dispersal. They have a mechanism of keeping most seeds from dropping to the ground so that they're available to birds. These pinyons have a mutualistic relationship with corvids, particularly Pinyon Jays, Scrub Jays, Stellar Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers who carry the seed a mile or more before caching it in the ground for food storage. The uneaten seeds germinate into seedlings. The seeds that are dispersed or otherwise obtained from cones by rodents that usually consume most of them. However, rodents cache under shrubs, so those seeds that are not consumed have a better survival rate by the nurse plants than those distributed by birds that are cached in open areas. 

It is not only rodents and birds that obtain food from the Singleleaf Pinyon. Bighorn Sheep, bear and deer will eat seeds, and Mule Deer and Pronghorn will lightly browse leaves, and squirrels, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, ringtails, and especially porcupines will eat the inner bark. These pines give shelter to an abundance of wildlife including lizards, birds, rodents, and larger mammals such as coyotes, foxes, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions and bear.  The trees are a good location for locating prey for many of the previously mentioned carnivores as well as skunks, weasels and badgers.

Pinyon seeds have been a food staple for humans for thousands of years. Their nutritional value is outstanding consisting of considerable protein, amino acids and beneficial fats that, for Native Americans, was sometimes difficult to obtain, particularly in desert environments.  Pine nuts are still gathered today by Native American tribes and are a staple food in traditional cultures, and for sale to non-tribal consumers who use the nuts in pesto and many other contemporary gourmet dishes.

Wood from Pinus monophylla is not suitable in terms of modern building standards, but was used extensively by Native Americans and their ancestors. Huts were built out of pine and juniper wood entirely, or walls were made out of adobe blocks or other stone and covered with branches. Pinyon wood burns hot and was an excellent source of heat and fuel for cooking. The aromatic pitch was used as glue.


Singleleaf Pinyon Pine 5

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine in the desert

Pinus monophylla is a small tree compared to other members of the Pinaceae family, and occurs at lower elevations as well, starting at about 4,000 ft.  Pipes Canyon | March 2016

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine 10

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine  in the desert

A young green cone of the Pinus monophylla. Note that there is only one needle (leaf) per fascicle. Mono=single and phylla=leaf. Cone and seed development require about 26 months, and masting (high cone/seed production) occurs every 2-3 years. Pipes Canyon, CA | May 24, 2010

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine 4

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine in the desert

Bark of the Pinus monophylla tree has deep, irregular fissures and thin scales up to 1 in. thick. Wood is light and soft, not suitable for building. This species is valuable agriculturally for its seed production, which is not as plentiful in the desert as in mountainous locations. Pipes Canyon, CA | February 2005

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine 9

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine in the desert

What a beauty! Pipes Canyon, CA | October 2011

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine 1

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine in the desert

This Pinus monophylla will do whatever it takes to obtain sunlight. Joshua Tree National Park | April 2015

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine 12

Singleleaf Pinyon Pine  in the desert

A beautiful Scott's Oriole perches at the top of Pinus monophylla. Pipes Canyon | April 2006