Fruit and Nut
Globally, there are about twenty-five species of pine that produce nuts large enough to be considered for human food. The different species are well scattered: from Mexico and the United States to the Mediterranean, Central Europe and Eastern Asia. Economically, the most important species are Pinus pinea (Mediterranean countries), Pinus siberica (Russia and Mongolia), Pinus koraiensis (Korea and China) , Pinus gerardiana (Pakistan and India) and Pinus cembroides (Mexico). Other important nut species include Pinus cembra (Central Europe), Pinus monophylla, Pinus edulis, Pinus sabiniana, Pinus torreyana and Pinus coulteri (all southwestern United States).
In Ireland , Pinus pinea is by far the most likely to produce regular crops of nuts. In coastal locations. Pinus torreyana has good potential while on more sheltered sites Pinus sabiniana, Pinus Coulteri and Pinus gerardiana are worth trying. The subalpine pines Pinus albicaulis, Pinus koraiensis and Pinus cembra also have good potential, but are very slow to come into production. Pinus pumila, the dwarf Siberian pine produces small nuts suitable for production of nut oil. In spite of its name, Pinus pumila grows quite quickly in Ireland, much faster than the subalpine pines listed above. All pinenut species are strongly outbreeding so single trees may not produce nuts. For best results plant 3-4 trees of the same species.
Pinus armandii, a pine species native to China, Bhutan and parts of Burma, is known to cause an unpleasant allergic reaction known as Pine Mouth (also called Pine Nut Syndrome). The main symptom is taste disturbance. Normally the symptoms last only a few days but in severe cases they can persist for weeks, occasionally months. Commercial pinenuts originating in Asia (including Eastern Russia) are sometimes adulterated with Pinus armandii. However, Pine Mouth has not been linked to any of the pine nut species listed above.
Pine trees are very adaptable. Of the 120 or so distinct species found worldwide, most would grow in Ireland. Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine), which is considered native to Ireland, is thought to have originated in Central Northern Asia. It's found in the wild state across a vast swathe of territory stretching from Scotland to within a hundred kilometres of the Pacific Ocean in Eastern Russia, and from the Arctic Ocean southwards as far as Turkey and Spain. Its territory encompasses an astonishing range of climates. On this evidence alone, any of the nut-bearing species of pine are worth a try.
Edible Pine Species
Pinus albicaulis, the Whitebark pine, is native to the mountains of Western Canada and Northwestern United States. It is closely related to the other subalpine stone pines, namely Pinus cembra, koraiensis, pumila and siberica. normally forms a low spreading tree, but in harsh conditions may develop as a prostrate mat. The nuts are quite large and flavoursome. Hardiness Zone 4. Not available
Pinus cembra , the Arolla stone pine, is native to the Alps and Carpathians, where it grows at a higher altitude than any other conifer. It is a very tough tree, capable of thriving in barren stony soil. In its harsh native environment it can take decades to reach nut-bearing age but when cultivated the first nuts appear at about 15 years. Requires well-drained soil. Slow growing, eventually reaching ten to twenty metres. Hardiness Zone 5. For best results, plant more than one tree. In stock
Pinus cemboides , the Mexican pinyon, is native to the North Central Mexico and Southwest Texas, where it grows at an altitude of 1500-2600 metres. Closely related to Pinus edulis and Pinus monophylla (below). In Mexico, the nuts are an important crop. Nut-producing capability in Ireland uncertain. Requires very well-drained soil. Hardiness Zone 7. Not available
Pinus coulteri , the Coulter pine, is native to coastal ranges of southern California and northwest Mexico. Closely related to Pinus sabiniana and Pinus torreyana. Known to be adaptable to colder climates and tolerant of high rainfall. Cold tolerant to -15°C. The Coulter pine makes a small tree with a broad crown. In its native environment it can eventually reach 15-20m, occasionally 25m. The cones are very large and can sometimes weigh 2kg. Nut-producing capability in Ireland uncertain. Hardiness Zone 7. Not available
Pinus edulis , the Rocky Mountain pinyon, is native to Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Closely related to Pinus monophyla and Pinus cembroides. Grows in arid upland environments. Cold tolerant to -25°C. In the past, important food crop for indigenous peoples. It is a very tough and long-lived tree, capable of thriving in near-desert conditions and living for 750 years or more. Nut-producing capability in Ireland uncertain. Requires very well-drained soil. Hardiness Zone 8. Not available
Pinus gerardiana , the Chilgoza pine, is native to Kashmir, Eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan (Pakistan) and Southern Tibet where it grows at between 2000 and 3500 metres above sea level. In the regions where the indigenous forests prevail, the Chilgoza pinenuts are an important economic crop, but lack of regeneration from over-grazing, combined with over-harvesting and the cutting down of trees for fuel have put the tree at risk and it is now on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In its native environment, t he tree is slow growing, eventually reaching 10-20 metres.
The Chilgoza pine is likely to grow well in Ireland but will do best on well-drained sites. Nut-producing capability is unknown, but seems likely. Hardiness Zone 7. Not available
Pinus koraiensis , the Korean stone pine, is native to Korea, Northern China, the Pacific coast of Russia, and Northern Japan. Closely related to Pinus siberica, but thought to be more adaptable to Irish conditions. It should produce the first nuts after about 15 years. Can tolerate a wide range of soils. Will grow into a large tree. Also valuable for timber. For best results, plant more than one tree. Hardiness Zone 3. Grafted trees available September 2020
Pinus maximartinezii, the Large Martinez pine is an extremely rare pine found growing in only one location: at 1900-2200m on the slopes of a small mountain in Zacatas State in central Mexico. The locality experiences frost in winter. Pinus maximartinezii produces the largest nut of any pine species. The tree should grow well in sheltered coastal parts of Ireland especially within urban areas and possibly also in milder regions inland. Its ability to produce nuts in an Irish climate is uncertain. Worth considering as a novelty tree. Hardiness Zone 9b. Not available
Pinus monophylla , the Single-leaf pinyon, is native to the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico, where it grows at an altitude of 1500-2600 metres. Closely related to Pinus edulis and Pinus monophylla. The tree is surprisingly adapatable, and large specimen trees can be found on favourable sites in the UK. Cold tolerant to -20°C. Nut-producing capability in Ireland uncertain. However, this species is the most promising of the three pinyons listed here. Requires very well-drained soil. Hardiness Zone 8. Not available
Pinus pinea, the Medierranean stone pine, grows well in Ireland and will produce the first nuts after 8-10 years. It is a tough hardy tree, tolerant of frost to -15°C. It will grow in any well-drained soil. Very good in coastal locations. This is by far the best choice of pinenut tree for Ireland. Slow growing with spreading habit. Also valuable for fuel. For best results for nuts, plant a minimum of 3-4 trees. Hardiness Zone 8. In stock
Pinus pumila, the dwarf Siberian pine, is native to the Russian Pacific coast, Northern Japan and parts of Korea and China. Closely related to Pinus koraiensis and Pinus siberica. It forms a dwarf tree or large shrub, occasionally reaching six metres. Compared to other pinenuts, the nuts are very small. In Siberia and parts of Japan the nuts are harvested for their oil. Of the pinenut trees offered here, the most suitable for really tough situations. Very suited to mass-planting in harsh coastal or upland environments. Compared to its subalpine relatives, grows relatively quickly in Ireland and could be used for as a nurse tree for other low growing species. Hardiness Zone 5. In stock
Pinus sabiniana , the Digger pine, is native to the coastal ranges of California. Closely related to Pinus torreyana and Pinus coulteri. Formerly an important food crop for the indigenous Maidu tribes (Digger Indians). The Digger pine is a small tree, typically reaching about 15m in its native environment. It is adapatable to a wide range of climates and soils. Nut-producing capability in Ireland uncertain, but quite promising. Hardiness Zone 8. Not available
Pinus siberica, the Siberian stone pine, is closely related to Pinus cembra, the Swiss Stone Pine, but produces larger nuts. It is a long-lived tree (c500 years) that in its native environment can grow to 30 metres. Although it has evolved to cope with the extreme temperature variations of Siberia and Mongolia, it appears quite comfortable in cool temperate climates. Known to be growing in coastal regions of some Baltic countries. Nut-producing capability in Ireland is unproven, but appears possible. Probably best on a cold upland site. The first cones should appear after about 15 years. Also valuable for timber and fuel. For best results plant more than one tree. Hardiness Zone 3. In stock
Pinus torreyana , the Soledad pine, is an extremely rare pine native to Santa Rosa island and several cliff sites in San Diego county, California. Closely related to Pinus sabiniana and Pinus coulteri. The Soledad pine is a small tree, rarely exceeding 15m. It is not very cold tolerant and will be damaged by temperatures below -6°C. In Ireland, only suitable for mild maritime environments. Nut-producing capability in Ireland unknown but in mild locations probably quite good . Hardiness Zone 9b. Not available
Conifers, Keith Rushforth (Christopher Helm, London 1987)