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Tree on Cerro Teta de la India in Baja California Norte [C.J. Earle, 2001.03].


Stand of P. monophylla along Highway CA-33, California [C.J. Earle, 2007.03.01].


An exceptionally large tree in the Schell Creek Range, Nevada [S. Strachan, 2008.07].


Bark on a tree in the White Mountains, California. Width of view about 30 cm [C.J. Earle, 1987.03.27].


Foliage and seed-bearing cones on a tree in the White Mountains, California. Width of view about 15 cm [C.J. Earle, 1987.03.27].


Seedling and seed in the White Pine Mountains, Nevada. [C.J. Earle, 2001.09.25].

Many photos of subsp. fallax can be seen HERE.


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Conservation status

Pinus monophylla

Torrey et Frémont 1845

Common names

Singleleaf piñon (or pinyon) (Arno and Gyer 1973); one-leaved, Gray, Frémont, or Nevada nut pine (Peattie 1950).

Taxonomic notes

Subsection Cembroides (Perry 1991). Syn: Caryopitys monophylla (Torrey & Frémont) Rydberg; Pinus californiarum D.K. Bailey; P.cembroides Zuccarini var. monophylla (Torrey & Frémont) Voss (Silba 1986).

The existence and ranking of infraspecific taxa is disputed. For example, Farjon (2010) reduces all such taxa to synonymy, while Eckenwalder (2009) recognizes three subspecies. They can also be treated as varieties, and have been so described by Silba (1990). This treatment follows Silba's example, primarily for the practical reason than all three taxa are fairly commonly referred to by botanists working within the species' native range. However, my knowledge and communications with others who have traveled widely within the range of these taxa indicate that there are no clear boundaries between these infraspecific taxa; they are probably manifestations of regional environmental variance and a widespread pattern of introgressive hybridization with Pinus edulis. They include:

Gernandt et al. (2003), in a study of chloroplast DNA sequences in piñon pines, found that this species is most closely related to P. quadrifolia. This is not surprising. P monophylla hybridizes with P. quadrifolia (Kral 1993), and Lanner (1974) asserts that P. quadrifolia arose through the hybridization of P. monophylla with P. juarezensis. Having examined the three taxa in their habitat in San Diego County and adjacent Baja California Norte, I agree with him, but for reasons explained on my P. quadrifolia page, I have reduced P. juarezensis to a synonym of P. quadrifolia.


Trees 5-9(14) m tall and up to 50 cm diameter, strongly tapering, much branched; crown usually rounded, dense. Bark red-brown, irregularly furrowed or cross-checked, scaly. Branches spreading and ascending, persistent to near trunk base; twigs stout, orange-brown, aging brown to gray, sometimes sparsely puberulent. Buds ellipsoid, light red-brown, 0.5-0.7 cm, resinous; scale margins fringed. Needles 1 (rarely 2) per fascicle, ascending, persisting 4-6(10) years, 2-6 cm x 1.3-2(2.5) mm, stout, curved, terete (though often 2-grooved), gray-green, all surfaces with stomatal lines, margins entire, apex subulate; sheath 0.5-1 cm, scales soon recurved, forming rosette, shed early. Staminate cones ellipsoid, ca. 10 mm, yellow. Ovulate cones maturing in 2 years, shedding seeds and falling soon thereafter, spreading, symmetric, ovoid before opening, broadly depressed-ovoid to nearly globose when open, 4-6(8) cm, pale yellow-brown, nearly sessile; apophyses thickened, slightly raised; umbo subcentral, raised or depressed, nearly truncate, apiculate. As with other piñons, the seeds rest in a deep cone-scale declivity and upper cone scale tissue holds the seeds in place, so seeds do not readily fall out and are readily available to avian dispersers. Seeds cylindric-ellipsoid; body 15-20mm, gray-brown to brown, wingless, edible. 2n=24 (Little 1980, Kral 1993, R. Lanner email 1999.12.20).

The three varieties may be distinguished using the table below (data from Eckenwalder 2009), with due consideration for geography (map presented below).

Character Var. monophylla Var. californiarum Var. fallax
Needle diameter 1.3-1.6 mm 1.2-1.4 mm 1.0-1.3 mm
Stomatal lines (12-)15-35(-40) (9-)11-26(-35) 14-18
Resin canals 2-7(-9) (5-)7-19(-24) 3-6
Open cone diam. 6-7 cm 4.5-6 cm 4.5-7.5
Seed length 16-18 mm 13-16 mm 13.5-16
Seed shell thickness 0.25-0.35 mm 0.3-0.4 mm 0.4-0.5 mm

Distribution and Ecology

USA: Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California; Mexico: Baja California Norte. 1000-2300 m. Prefers dry, gravelly slopes in semiarid country (Little 1980, Kral 1993). Hardy to Zone 6 (cold hardiness limit between -23.2°C and -17.8°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Distribution map produced by the USGS Global Change Research Program in 2003; see for more information, including metadata and sources used to compile the map. Downloaded on 2012.04.25. Red polygons represent var. monophylla, blue are var. californiarum, and green are var. fallax.

The three varieties are distributed as follows (Eckenwalder 2009):

Within its range, it is generally the predominant tree species, dominating large areas throughout isolated mountain ranges of the Great Basin. In most of that area it forms piñon-juniper woodlands with species of Juniperus, primarily J. osteosperma; the pine tends to predominate at higher/wetter elevations, and the juniper at lower/drier ones. At high elevations it commonly occurs with bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva. In other areas it may be found growing with P. coulteri, P. ponderosa, P. jeffreyi, Abies concolor, Cupressus arizonica, Juniperus californica, J. occidentalis, and even Ephedra viridis. In some areas it occurs with one of two other piñons, P. edulis and P. quadrifolia, and it hybridizes naturally with both species (see Taxonomic notes above). For more detail on vegetation associations, see the FEIS. See also Thompson et al. (1999).

Big tree

Diameter 135 cm, height 15.2 m, crown spread 15.8 m, located in Washoe County, Nevada (American Forests 2008).


In about 2007, Scotty Strachan and Franco Biondi sampled a living tree named MIN-108 in the Pilot Range, Nevada, that crossdated to 1106 AD. This is the oldest living tree record yet found (S. Strachan email 2008.07.13). A few years earlier, Biondi and Strachan found a tree in the Pine Grove Hills of Nevada that crossdated to an age of 888 years (RMTRR 2006).


Has been used in stable-isotope studies, historical archeology (dating the construction of old mine buildings), air pollution assessment, and a wide variety of climate studies (Bibliography of Dendrochronology). NOAA lists 15 chronologies for this species (NOAA Tree Ring Search Page).


The large, nutritious seeds were a staple food for native Americans living within the range of this species, and are still gathered with enthusiasm. The wood is used primarily for fuel and for fenceposts; in the historic period, the species was widely exploited to fuel railroad locomotives and to produce charcoal for silver smelters (FEIS database). It is also locally harvested for Christmas trees (Burns and Honkala 1990).


Easy to find within its range. Piñon-juniper woodlands are particularly widespread and well-developed in east-central Nevada, while the largest and most impressive individual trees I have seen have been in Joshua Tree National Park, near the southwest range limits of the species. It is also a reasonably common ornamental, tolerant of relatively wet climes, and can be found in arboreta and larger parks in the eastern US and Great Britain.


This is the only pine that typically bears a single needle per fascicle.

Singleleaf piñon is the state tree of Nevada (Kral 1993).

This species, along with Pinus edulis, is host to the dwarf mistletoe Arceuthobium divaricatum (Hawksworth and Wiens 1996). Trees may also be afflicted by insects including the pinyon ips (Ips confusus), pinyon needle scale (Matsucoccus acalyptus), pinyon sawfly (Neodiprion edulicolus) and mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae); the cone predators Eucosma bobana and Dioryctria albovittella (moths); and by fungal diseases including pinyon blister rust (Cronartium occidentale), singleleaf pine needle cast (Bifusella pini), and black stain root disease (Leptographium [=Verticicladiella] wageneri) (Burns and Honkala 1990, Scharpf 1993).


Gernandt, D.L., A. Liston and D. Piñero. 2003. Phylogenetics of Pinus subsections Cembroides and Nelsoniae inferred from cpDNA sequences. Systematic Botany 28(4): 657-673.

Torrey, J., and J. C. Frémont. 1845. Descriptions of some genera and species of plants, collected in Captain J. C. Frémont's exploring expedition to Oregon and North California, in the years 1843-1844.

See also

Blackburn, W.H., and P.T. Tueller. 1970. Pinyon and juniper invasion in black sagebrush communities in east-central Nevada. Ecology 51(5): 841-848.

Farjon and Styles (1997).

Lanner (1974, 1981, 1983, and 1999).

Malusa (1992).

Muir (1894).

Zavarin, E., K. Snajberk and R. Debry. 1980. Terpenoid and morphological variability of Pinus quadrifolia and its natural hybridization with Pinus monophylla in northern Baja California and adjoining United States. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 8(3): 225-235.

Last Modified 2014-03-29