|Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana) was once known as Digger Pine. Some of the first pioneers in the Central Valley of California called the Native Americans "Diggers" because their diet consisted largely of roots and bulbs. When they learned that they also ate the large, rich seeds of a foothill pine during part of the year, they called the tree "Digger Pine." Now this name is seen as disrespectful to Native Americans and most botanists have settled on calling this tree a Gray Pine.|
|Gray Pine are solitary and airy gray-green trees that are endemic to California. They are drought tolerant and they grow in the foothills of California's coastal ranges and the Sierra Nevada. In the Sierra they grow only on the western slope between 1,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation. They are typically 40 to 70 feet tall and their trunks are often curved and forked. Their trunks are from one to three feet in diameter and their needles are 8-12 inches long and grow in clusters of threes. Their cones are huge; they can weigh up to 4 pounds when they're green and they are 8 to 10 inches long! The cone bears huge seeds that are almost twice the size of pinyon pine nuts. On the tip of each cone scale is a curved spine that makes the cones quite prickly to pick up and you definitely don't want to drive over one with your vehicle, you might puncture your tires!|
|Gray Pine at Pinnacles National Monument, CA|
|Gray pines are often found growing alongside blue oak (Quercus douglasii) and historically this community experienced periodic fires every 15-30 years. Gray pine is highly flammable but it does have two adaptations that allow it to withstand fire. First, some of the largest trees will withstand moderate-severity fire because of their thick bark and self-pruning trunks. Secondly, regeneration is favored following fire because fire creates a favorable bare mineral soil seedbed, and heat from the fire helps open the seeds and increases germination rates..
Gray Pine and blue oak woodland is a preferred habitat for mule deer, California quail, and mourning dove. Many animals eat the seeds of the Gray Pine including scrub jays, acorn woodpeckers, and California gray squirrels.
|John Muir wrote of the gray pine, "No other tree of my acquaintance so substantial in body is in foliage so thin and so pervious to the light. The sunbeams sift through even the leafiest trees with scarcely any interruption..." I think a gray pine's delicate foliage is certainly beautiful especially compared to its dry surroundings. It is also unique in that it can support such huge, heavy cones.|