Pinus Sabiniana is native to California and Oregon and has a variety of names.
Its habitat forms a ring around California’s ‘bathtub’ (central valley). It grows in poor soils, is adapted to hot, dry summers and usually keeps company with Blue and Live Oaks.
Common Names & Naming History
Common names include;
- Ghost Pine
- Gray Pine
- California Foothill Pine
- Bull Pine
- Nut Pine
- Grayleaf Pine
- Sabines Pine and
- Sabine Nut Pine
In published writings before the 1800’s, the tree was known as Digger Pine. According to Erwin Gudde author of California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. “…the name seems to have been used in a geographical sense mainly in Wintu territory. With these tribes, roots are, for the great portion of the year, their main subsistence.” (Schoolcraft, Archives of aboriginal knowledge, 1860). The diggers also valued as food the green cones and the seeds of the Pinus sabiniana, whence the common designation Digger Pine.”
Like monuments and other articles of history, once the full story is understood, it often sheds light on derogatory designations and attitudes. Such is the case with the name Digger. For valid reasons, the Pinus Sabiniana has many other common names to choose from.
Cones, Nuts & Resin
Current tree distribution may be a result of human cultivation. Native populations are known to have tended to plants used for food, clearing brush and redistributing seeds.
Gray pine nuts are also important food sources for the California gray squirrel, acorn woodpeckers, rodents, and a variety of birds. The Scrub and Steller’s jay eat the seeds and move them, assisting with tree migration and reproduction.
Highly Flammable Tree
Gray pine is a prolific resin producer. The bark, cones, wood and needle sheaths contain pitch. This makes the tree vulnerable to fire damage.
Adaptations that aid in fire survival are; thick bark on mature trees and low branch self-pruning. Additionally, Gray pine seeds regenerate following fire.
“…this tree looks more like a palm than a pine,” writes John Muir in My First Summer in the Sierra. “Sabine pine (Pinus Sabiniana), which here forms small groves or is scattered among the blue oaks. The trunk divides at a height of fifteen or twenty feet into two or more stems, out-leaning or nearly upright, with many straggling branches and long gray needles, casting but little shade.”
Western Dwarf Mistletoe – Arceuthobium occidentale
Dwarf mistletoe observations in Gray Pine trees off Newtown Rd.
Though mistletoes are parasitic and pose a serious threat for forest product trees, it is a valuable part of Life on the Creek. Insects, birds and small mammals consume parts of the mistletoe. In some tree species, the parasite causes the formation of witches brooms, dense outgrowths surrounded by foliage. This provides a safe haven for bird nests and other small creatures.
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Calscape – Foothill Pine Gray Pine Pinus Sabiniana
Gymnosperm Database – Pinus Sabiniana
Jepson Herbarium – Pinus sabiniana
Trees of Stanford – Pinus sabiniana
USDA & Forest Service – Fire Effects Information Species: Pinus Sabiniana
Wikipedia – Pinus sabiniana
Western Dwarf Mistletoe
Colorado Extension – Mistletoes in Colorado Conifers
Invasive Species Compendium
Record Searchlight – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mistletoe
USDA Forest Service – Gray Pine Dwarf Mistletoe [PDF]
Illustration & Artwork
MistleTroll – MeganGreeneDesign.com