Common Name: Pine Tree, Pinion, Piñon, Pinyon, Stone Pine, Nut Pine
Scientific Name: Pinus species
Family: Pinaceae (the Pine family)

Colorado Pinyon - young

Colorado Pinyon – young

Colorado Pinyon - mature

Colorado Pinyon – mature

Common Species: there are about 115 Pine species, but only about 20 of them are useful for nut production. I have 16 of them listed below, and the most important Nut Pines (largest nuts, highest producers, easily found for planting, etc.) are in bold:

  • Chinese White Pine (Pinus armandii) – Asia
  • Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana) – Asia
  • Swiss Pine (Pinus cembra)
  • Mexican Pinyon, Mexican Pine Nut, Mexican Stone Pine (Pinus cembroides)
  • Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri)
  • Colorado Pinion/Pinyon/Piñon, Rocky Mountain Piñon (Pinus edulis)
  • Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana) – Asia (western Himalayas)
  • Korean Nut Pine, Chinese Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis)
  • Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) – North America
  • Single-leaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla) – North America
  • Italian Stone Pine, Umbrella Pine, Parasol Pine (Pinus pinea)
  • Siberian Dwarf Pine (Pinus pumila) – Asia
  • Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrifolia) – North America
  • Gray Pine (Pinus sabineana) – North America
  • Siberian Pine (Pinus sibirica) – Asia
  • Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) – North America
These tasty little seeds are not easy to obtain, but they are worth it!

These tasty little seeds are not easy to obtain, but they are worth it!

Pine nuts are one of my favorite foods. I love to use them when I cook Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dishes. They also happen to be very expensive, so growing our own makes a lot of sense (cents!). While all Pine trees produce edible seed, most of the nuts are so small, they are not worth the trouble. There are about 20 species of Pine that produce nuts large enough, and in enough quantity, to be considered a good food source. I am going to give specific information about the top four nut producing Pines. As it turns out, these trees have many other functions, including being drought resistant, a windbreak,  and wood source to name a few. A very nice Permaculture plant.

Pinus koriensis and Pinus edulis

Pinus koraiensis and Pinus edulis

Native and widespread across the Northern Hemisphere from the subtropical through temperate regions. Pines have been introduced all over the world. They have been used for wood, medicine, and food by native peoples wherever Pines are found. In modern times, Pine trees are among the most important commercial trees in the world.


  • Pine Nuts contain 10-15% protein, 50-60% fat, and 15-20% carbohydrate.
  • The nut takes 18-36 months to mature.
Pine nuts (in shells) from female cones.

Pine nuts (in shells) from female cones.

Unshelled and shelled pine nuts.

Unshelled and shelled pine nuts.


Primary Uses:

  • Edible Nuts – raw or cooked. Considered a delicacy throughout the world!
  • Nut Butter
  • Flour – Seeds can be dried and ground into a flour; best when mixed with cereal flours.
  • Edible Cones – young, very small cones can be cooked and ground into a powder to be used as a flavoring or flour adjunct. If the cone is large enough the center can be eaten after cooking.
  • Edible Inner Bark – cooked. Can be cut into strips like spagheti. Can also be dried and ground into a powder/flour and mixed with grain flour for baking
  • Wood – fuel, posts, fencing, carpentry, furniture, etc.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant
  • Windbreak Species – this plant can be used to block, or break the path, of wind.
  • Scaffolding for vines – Pines make great natural scaffolding to vining plants that can grow in the unique soil conditions created by the pine needles. The Pine tree does not bear every year, and the cones are often harvested by hand from the tree, so undergrowth should be tolerated well. Also, since many Pines take a number of years to start producing, a short lived vine can grow on the maturing Pine tree for a few years as needed.
  • Tea Plant – young needles can be steeped in hot water. This tea is high in vitamins A and C.
  • Wildlife shelter – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Wildlife food source – many animals will eat the seeds and fruit, especially birds and small mammals
  • Drought plant – Pines are tolerant of drought once established, due in part to their large taproot
  • Tan/green dye from the needles
  • Source of tar, pitch, rosin, turpentine, etc. I plan on writing an article detailing the production and uses of these products soon.
The female cones (strobili) bear nuts, but both male and female cones are needed for production.

The female cones (strobili) bear the tasty nuts/seed, but both male and female cones are both needed for their production.

The cones will ripen at various times according to the species (P. pinea ripens in April, P. koraiensis ripens in September, P. edulis and P. cembroides ripen in October). However, ripening times will vary greatly on species and local climate/enviroment.

Pine nuts are ready for harvest about 10 days before the green cones begin to open. The cones are harvested with either long poles (often bamboo), long-handled pruners, or long-handled saws which knock the cones down or by a person who climbs the tree and harvests each cone by hand (the “piñero”). The harvested cones are placed in a bag (burlap is most common) and then exposed to heat (sunlight is most common). In about 20 days, the drying process causes the cone to fully open and the nuts can be extracted, usually by swinging the bag into a hard surface causing the cones to shatter and release the seed. It is possible, but difficult to harvest the seed from the ground after the cone opens on its own. Conversely, animals are very good at harvesting fallen nuts as a food source.

The nuts will need to be shelled after collected from the cone. This can be time consuming if done by hand with a hammer. There are commercial shellers available which are rather expensive. There are also a number of plans for do-it-yourself shellers available online. I have not attempted making or using these, so I cannot speak to their efficacy; however, I hope to do some experiments with them in the future. I will share that information as I get it.

Yield: 10-20 lbs (5-10 kg) is a large crop from an average tree.
Storage: Pine nuts can be stored for many years after dried.

Mexican Pine Tree

Mexican Pinyon – young

Mexican Pinyon - old

Mexican Pinyon – old


USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): Zone 5-8
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): Zone 5-8
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): Zone 3-7
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): Zone 7-11

AHS Heat Zone:

  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): Zone 9-1
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): Zone 8-5
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): Zone 7-1
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): Zone 12-9

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Medium to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a many species and cultivars available

Pollination: Most species are not self-fertile (they need to be fertilized from another tree), and most are monoecious. Pines typically have male and female flowers on the same tree. Pollinated by the wind.
Flowering: Typically in the Summer months

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Bearing: 15-40 years (Korean Pine); 25-75 years (Colorado Pine). However, this really applies to the wild varieties. There are varieties of nut pines that start producing in 5-10 years (precocious varieties) that are starting to become more widely available.
  • Years Between Major Crops: 2-7 years. Many trees have “bumper” years when the conditions are perfect for nut production, and there can be a number of low production years in between large harvests.
  • Years of Useful Life: In general, Pine trees are long-lived trees. An Italian Stone Pine tree lives to be about 100 years old. A Mexican Pine Nut tree is just reaching maturity at 250-350 years. Many pines can live to well over 1,000 years of age.
Stone Pine Tree - young

Italian Stone Pine Tree – young

Italian Stone Pine Tree - middle aged (starting to lose the lower branches).

Italian Stone Pine Tree – middle-aged, starting to lose the lower branches.

Italian Stone Pine Tree - mature, with its classic umbrella shape.

Italian Stone Pine Tree – mature, with its classic umbrella shape.



  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): 26-66 feet (8-20 meters) tall and 15-25 feet (4.5-7.5 meters) wide with a 20 inch (50 centimeter) trunk diameter
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): 33-66 feet (10-20 meters) tall with a 31 inch (80 centimeter) trunk diameter
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): 130-160 feet (40-50 meters) tall with a 4.9-6.6 feet (1.5-2 meter) trunk diameter
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): 39-82 feet (12-25 meters) tall and 26 feet (8 meters) wide

Roots: Most species have taproots. Some are more fibrous than others.
Growth Rate: Very slow to medium growth rate

Korean Pine - young

Korean Nut Pine – young

Korean Nut Pine - mature

Korean Nut Pine – middle-aged


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Does not tolerate shade

  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides) – Prefers dry to moist soils
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) – Prefers rather dry soils, but tolerates moist soils
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis) – Prefers dry to moist soils
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) – Prefers moist soils, but tolerates very dry soils once established


  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): 5.1-7.0
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): 6.1-7.0
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): 5.1-7.0
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): 5.1-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Pine roots really need to establish a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi to grow well. Innoculation is stronly recommended. This can be as simple as obtaining some soil from an established pine forest and mixing this into the compost in the hole the seedling is placed. There are places that sell specific innoculant for specific species of pines.
  • High elevation is considered a benefit for pine nut production as most Pine Nut trees are found between an elevation of 6,000-8,500 feet (1,800-2,600 meters) above sea level. It is thought that the higher elevation moderates ambient air moisture and maintains stable humidity. It appears that nut production can still be high at lower elevations if the tree has reatively constant through the Spring and Summer.

Typically from seed – 4-12 weeks of cold stratification improves germination rates. Due to their taproots, most pines are best planted into their permanent position as soon as possible (no more than 3 feet/90 centimeters). Some species can be propagate through cuttings.

Maintenance: Minimal.


  • Terpene is a chemical released from the needles during rain. This has an allelopathic effect; it inhibits the growth of some other plants.
  • “Pine Nut Syndrome” or “Pine Mouth” is a phenomenon where a person who eats pine nuts will develop a metallic taste in their mouth for a few days to a few weeks. This goes away on its own and has no lasting or harmful effects. No one is sure why this occurs, but it has been seem almost exclusively in Asian pine nuts. Some researchers believe it is due to only Asian pine nuts. Some believe it only occurs with nuts from a certain species, Pinus armandii. Others believe it has to do with the chemicals used in the shelling process in Asia. No one is really sure right now.



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