Pinus sabiniana

gray pine


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Coniferophyta (conifers). Class - Pinopsida. Order - Pinales. Family - Pinaceae (pine). Genus - Pinus L. (pine). Species Pinus sabiniana Douglas ex Douglas (california foothill pine).

Ecology: Gray pine is a drought-tolerant, native evergreen conifer. Mature trees average from 12-24 m in height and from 30-90 cm in d.b.h. Trees usually maintain a pyrimidal growth form until the pole stage. Mature trees typically have multiple trunks. Gray pine is self-pruning, and lower branches are often a considerable distance above the understory. Gray pine grows a deep taproot where soil depth permits.
The bark of young trees is thin, while older trees have thick bark. Needles grow from 20-30 cm long and are shed every 2 to 3 years. Gray pine's heavily spined female cones are among the largest and most massive in the genus. Fresh cones average from 0.3-0.7 kg, and may exceed 1 kg. The cones are typically from 15-30 cm long. They do not form an abscission layer and are retained long after seeds are shed.
Blue oak-gray pine communities are fire climax and are replaced by ponderosa pine or other coniferous forests in the absence of fire. Gray pine readily establishes from seed on disturbed sites and is common in all seral stages of the blue oak-gray pine community. Young trees tolerate partial shade. Mature trees are shade intolerant.

Interesting uses

The seeds of gray pine were eaten by many California Indian tribes and are still served in Native American homes today. They can be eaten fresh and whole in the raw state, roasted, or pounded into flour and mixed with other types of seeds. The seeds were eaten by the Pomo, Sierra Miwok, Western Mono, Wappo, Salinan, Southern Maidu, Lassik, Costanoan, and Kato, among others. Sierra Miwok men climbed the trees and twisted the green cones off by hand before the seeds were fully developed. These immature cones were roasted for 20 minutes in hot ashes, yielding a brown, sweet syrup.

The pitch of the gray pine was used as a medicine by the Western Mono and the branches were made into household utensils for stirring acorn mush. The Costanoan used the pitch as a treatment for rheumatism. The needles were used for thatch, bedding, and floor covering and the bark for house covering by the Sierra Miwok. The branches and roots were used in California Indian basketry and still gathered to a limited extent by contemporary weavers.


Prominent diseases of gray pine include western gall rust (Periderium harknessii) and dwarf-mistletoe (Arceuthobium occidentale and A. campylopodum). Western gall rust forms galls on gray pine throughout its range but rarely causes serious damage. Dwarf-mistletoe is a particularly damaging and widespread disease. It infects trees of all ages, causing reduced tree vigor or death...Gray pine is the specific host for Ips spinifer. This bark beetle generally attacks fire- or drought-weakened trees. Heavy resin production by healthy trees provides a strong defense against most species of bark beetles.

Gray pine growing in hardpan is susceptible to windthrow under waterlogged soil conditions.

Fire effects: Gray pine is increasing in blue oak-gray pine communities due to fire suppression and lack of blue oak regeneration...Gray pine is highly flammable. The needles contain ether extracts. It is a heavy resin producer, with the wood, bark, cones, and needle sheaths all containing pitch. Congealed flows of resin that have dripped from wounds are common on gray pine. Consequently, it is susceptible to fire damage. Gray pine has two adaptations which enable it to survive fire. First, some large trees will withstand moderate-severity fire. Mature trees with thick bark and self-pruned trunks are best able to avoid fatal scorching. Secondly, seed regeneration is favored following fire. Fire creates a favorable bare mineral soil seedbed, and heat scarification of the woody seedcoat increases germination rates.


Seed Production - Gray pine produces seed at 10 to 25 years of age. It is a consistent seed producer, with large crop outputs at 2- to 3-year intervals. Gray pine has delayed seed dispersal. Cones open slowly, shedding seed over a period of several months.

Seed Dissemination - Seeds are disseminated by animals, gravity, and water. Scrub jay and acorn woodpecker are the most effective animal disseminators. Seeds require cold stratification for approximately 30 days prior to germination. The exact stratification period varies with ecotype.

Seedbank - Seedbank-stored seed remains viable for up to 5 years. Germination rates improve when the seed is scarified and increase greatly when the nuclear cap is removed.

Seedling Establishment - Germination is epigeal. Seedlings establish best on bare mineral soil under partial shade. Most first-year growth occurs in the taproot. Subsequent top growth is rapid; early growth rates of gray pine are among the most rapid of all conifers. Rate of top growth averages 70 cm per year for the first 8 years of life.

Vegetative Reproduction - Gray pine does not reproduce vegetatively.

Species Distribution


USDA Plant Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (, 4 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds.  1993+.  Flora of North America North of Mexico.  19+ vols.  New York and Oxford.

Silvics of North America
Burns, R.M., and B.H. Honkala. 1990. Silvics of North America (Volume 1: Conifers). USDA Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 654.

Intermountain Herbarium
Consortium of Intermountain Herbaria. 2016. http// Accessed on February 04.

Jepson Manual
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. $131.95, hardcover; 1600 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0520253124.

USGS Plant Species Range Maps
Critchfield, W.B., and Little, E.L., Jr., 1966, Geographic distribution of the pines of the world: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 991, p. 1-97.
Little, E.L., Jr., 1971-1978, Atlas of United States trees, volume 1,3,13,17, conifers and important hardwoods: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications.