The California Foothill Pine is a large, evergreen nut tree endemic to California but able to grow throughout the Pacific Northwest. The large seed bearing cones contain edible pine nuts and serve as a nutritious native food source. The small nuts are highly valued for their culinary and nutritional qualities and are a primary ingredient in making pesto. Their flavor is buttery, mild and sweet with slight notes of citrus. The nuts of the California Foothill Pine are equal to or superior to commercially produced pine nuts. The nuts are contain a remarkable 25% protein and are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids that helps to lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increases HDL or "good-cholesterol" in the blood. Additionally, they contain numerous health promoting phyto-chemicals, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. Pine nuts can occasionally cause a condition known as Pine Mouth with causes other foods to taste bitter for up to a couple days. The cause of this condition is unknown and seems to be a random problem that is only caused by certain batches of pine nuts.
The California Foothill Pine is notable for its delicate, lacy, transparent crown which throws very little shade. When young they are one of the fastest growing pines up to 10 years of age. When mature they often have beautiful irregular shapes, forked trunks. Their enormous cones have a rich, chocolate brown coloration.
Environment and Culture
The California Foothill Pine is native to California. It thrives in multiple different ecologies including oak savanna and mixed evergreen forests. They are vigorous and easy to grow when planted in well drained soils and are very drought tolerant. Their nuts were a very important food source for many Native Americans. They will grow well with both Oregon White Oak and California Black Oak. They will also benefit from a companion planting with either the Red Stem Ceanothus or the Blue Blossom Ceanothus. The large cones will attract chipmunks, squirrels and Jays who all favor the nuts and promote the establishment of new stands.
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
The California Foothill Pine will benefit from pruning in its early years, especially to slow down its vigorous growth rate and establish a strong frame to promote health as the tree matures. Harvest the pine nuts as the seeds fall from the cones in late fall or use a pole to knock down the large cones. The nuts can be eaten raw or cooked and pair well with both sweet and savory dishes. A light toasting helps to bring out their flavor.
Native Range: CA, OR
USDA zones: 3-10
Ease of Care: High
Deer Resistance: Good
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Soil Type: Prefers light, well drained soil but will tolerate serpentine, poorly drained soils.