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Popular American Trees - Torrey Pine and the Kumeyaay Tribe

In terms of ornamental trees, another native California tree to learn to appreciate and plant is the American Torrey Pine tree.  As many native California children did back in the 1950s we first studied this tree not for the tree itself, but for its part in feeding the Kumeyaay Tribe of Native American people.  They weren’t the only ones who used the fruits of this largely now considered ornamental tree as a primary food source.  Generations of early Mexican colonists to coastal regions of California also used the Torrey pine nuts for food.  Today, you might find them served in upscale restaurants referred to as piñon nuts.  They are very large, hard, but entirely eatable.

Historically, the Torrey Pine tree nuts were an important food source for the Kumeyaay (aka Tipai-Ipai or Kamia peoples).  These tribes were scattered from the southwestern part of the United States, towards northwest Mexico and as far down the Pacific coast as Baja California.

   Torrey Pine Cones

Torrey Pine Cones

You’ll often find them growing in the same areas as the Monterey Pine tree.  Both species are intolerant to severe winter colds and both as primarily coastal trees.  The primary difference between these two trees is in the pine needles.  They grow twice as long in the Torrey pine as they do in the Monterey pine.  Additionally, the Torrey pine needles grow in bundles of five, as opposed to the Monterey pine which grow in bundles of three.  Furthermore, the cones are larger and much rougher.  The tree is less organized in shape than a Monterey Pine and has its own beauty in the eyes of most admirers.

The pine seeds are not the smaller ones that most people encounter when eating pine nuts, they are much larger, almost a full inch long.  This place them among the largest pine seeds on earth, second only to the Pinus longifolia in the Himalayas.  So while they are called “nuts” they are actually seeds.

Torrey pines are native to Santa Rosa Island and around the mouth of the Soledad River (mainland) in Southern California.  Some will reach a height of forty to sixty feet in the wild, but when planted deliberately they can and do grow larger.  They aren’t as popular as ornamental trees as their cousin the Monterey Pine but that has more to do with them being rather limited in places best suited for growing.

In the wild, the winged seeds are prolific as they germinate freely whereever they fall among older trees.  The young trees grow fast.  Remember that they are more suited to sea coastal areas.        

Caution When Eating Pine Nuts

If you are allergic to other nuts, such as peanuts, you will want to proceed with caution when eating Torry pine nuts or any variety of pine nuts.

Roasting Pine Nuts

Most people prefer to eat pine nuts roasted, which many consider to make the pine nut tastier.  An easy way to roast (toast) pine nuts is to pre-heat the over to 350 degrees and place the nuts on a cookie sheet and cook for about ten to twelve minutes.