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The (Italian) Stone Pine (or Umbrella Pine) (Pinus pinea; family Pinaceae) is a species of pine native of southern Europe, primarily the Iberian Peninsula. This tree has been exploited for its edible pine nuts since prehistoric times. It is also a widespread horticultural tree, besides being cultivated for the seeds.
The Stone Pine can exceed 25 m height, though is usually rather less tall, 12-20 m being more normal. It has a very characteristic umbrella-like shape, with a short trunk and very broad, smoothly rounded to nearly flat crown. The bark is thick, red-brown and deeply fissured into broad vertical plates. The flexible mid-green leaves are needle-like, in bundles of two, and are 10-20 cm long (exceptionally up to 30 cm). Young trees up to 5-10 years old bear juvenile leaves, which are very different, single (not paired), 2-4 cm long, glaucous blue-green; the adult leaves appear mixed with juvenile leaves from the fourth or fifth year on, replacing it fully by around the 10th year. Juvenile leaves are also produced in re-growth following injury, such as a broken shoot, on older trees.
The cones are broad ovoid, 8-15 cm long, and take 36 months to mature, longer than any other pine. The seeds (pine nuts, piñones, pinhões or pinoli) are large, 2 cm long, pale brown with a powdery black coating which rubs off easily, and have a rudimentary 4-8 mm wing which falls off very easily. The wing is ineffective for wind dispersal, and the seeds are animal-dispersed, originally mainly by the azure-winged magpie, but in recent history, very largely by humans.
The original range Stone Pine was probably only in Portugal and Spain, but it has been cultivated extensively for at least 6,000 years for the edible seeds. These have been trade items since early historic times. It is cultivated and often naturalised throughout the Mediterranean region, for so long that it is often considered native, while more recently (since about 1700) been introduced to other areas with Mediterranean climates. It is now naturalised in South Africa (where it is listed as an invasive species) and commonly planted in California, Australia, and western Europe north to southern Scotland. On the East Coast of the United States, it can survive as far north as New Jersey, though it will usually suffer significant damage to its foliage during winter that far north. Small specimens are grown in large planters or are used for Bonsai, and year-old seedlings are also widely sold as 20-30 cm tall table-top christmas trees.
The Stone Pine has also been called Italian Stone Pine, European Nut Pine, Umbrella Pine (not to be confused with the Japanese Umbrella-pine) and Parasol Pine. It has also occasionally been listed under the invalid name Pinus sativa.
Categories: Least Concern species | Pinaceae | Edible nuts and seeds