General: Pine Family (Pinaceae). Native shrubs or trees growing 5-12(-21) meters tall, with a strongly tapering trunk, single-stemmed and tallest at higher elevations, multi-stemmed, bushy and sprawling on lower sites, the crown usually compact, rounded and spreading. Bark is reddish-brown, shallowly and irregularly furrowed. Needles are evergreen, 2 per bundle, less commonly 1 or 3, 2-4 cm long, upcurved, yellow-green to blue-green, mostly 2-3-sided, all surfaces with pale stomatal bands, the margins smooth or finely toothed. Seed cones about (3.5) 4(5) cm long at maturity, ovoid before opening, depressed-ovoid to nearly globose when open, short-stalked to nearly sessile. Seeds mostly ellipsoid to obovoid 10-15 mm long, light brown, wingless. The seeds rest in a deep depression on each cone scale and a flap of tissue holds them in place, so the seeds are readily available to birds. The common name represents a species of pinyon pine producing two needles per bundle. The Spanish “piñon” refers to the large seed (pine in Spanish is “pino”).
Variation within the species: the California outlier of two-needle pinyon has been considered a distinct species, California Pine (Pinus californiarum) (Bailey 1987), or a population of 2-needled trees of single-leaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla var. californiarum). Pinus edulis var. fallax is seen by some to combine features of P. edulis and P. monophylla – but it has most recently been treated as part of other species (P. californiarum subsp. fallax; P. monophylla var. fallax). The differences in opinion regarding these species of pinyon pine are further reflected in the observation that even the typical form of P. edulis has been treated as a variety of both P. monophylla and P. cembroides. Naturally occurring hybrids have been reported between two-needle pinyon and single-leaf pinyon in several areas.
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