Two-Needle Pinyon Pine – Pinus edulis
Other Names: Colorado pinyon, Mesa pine, Piñon pine.
Distinctive Characteristics: The Two-Needle Pinyon is a common desert conifer of the southwest U.S. In mature trees, the dark-gray brown bark with reddish patches is furrowed with rough, scaly ridges. Short bright-green or blue-green needles are bunched in twos, to distinguish it from its Single-Leaf cousin. Mature cones are small, at 13⁄4 in. (4.5 cm), and lack prickles.
Distribution: Native to the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau, and the Great Basin Desert; widespread and abundant in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, with sparse populations in Nevada, southwestern California, Wyoming, Texas, and Mexico. Elevation: 4,600–9,800 ft. (1,402–2,987 m).
Ecosystem: Arid, rocky flats or slopes, canyons, and some riparian zones. Common in desert shrublands and juniper-pinyon woodlands, along with Single-Leaf Pinyon Pines.
Maximum Age: Recorded at 973 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 69 ft. (21 m) in height; 9.4 ft. (2.8 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: This pine is an important habitat and food source to a variety of desert-dwellers, including virtually any animal capable of cracking and digesting the nuts. Among these consumers are mice, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, bears, bighorn sheep, rodents, and birds. Jays and nutcrackers have been responsible for much of the redistribution and regeneration of the trees, caching them in the ground miles away from their original homes. Dianthidium bees use the sticky resin to help construct nests.
Medicine: Smoke from the burning needles was inhaled for colds (Mescalero Apaches). The burning sap was inhaled for colds (Ramah Navajo).
Food: Pine nuts were a staple food (Piute, Washoe, Great Basin Shoshone).
Tools and Objects: The sap was used for waterproofing baskets and clay vessels, and later as glue for jewelry. The wood was also burned to cure animal hide leather for bags and tepee coverings (Mountain Ute).
Art and Ceremony: The sap was placed on hot coals to purify themselves after a funeral (Hopi, Tewa), the sap was also burned for other ceremonial purposes (Navajo).
Modern Uses: For modern industrial civilization, the wood has been exploited for charcoal, railroad crossties, lumber, fence posts, and even pulpwood. It is harvested commercially and non-commercially for pine nuts.
Threats and Conservation: There have been many threats to the survival of the Pinyon Pine. In the 1800s, hundreds of thousands of acres were deforested to supply charcoal for mining, smelting, and the railroad industry. During the last and current century, millions of hectares of productive Pinyon Pine woodlands have been destroyed due to conversion of land for livestock grazing on both private and public lands. Entire woodlands have been ripped down using giant chains pulled by heavy machinery, seen by many as an act of major ecological and cultural vandalism. Most recently, because of global climate change, widespread drought is making the trees susceptible to bark beetle infestations, resulting in a massive die-off of up to 80% of Pinyon-Juniper woodlands in certain areas.