Gray Pine

Gray Pine

The Gray Pine (Pinus sabineana) is a pine endemic to California in the United States. The tree typically grows to 12-15 m, but can reach 35 m in height. The needles of the Gray Pine are in fascicles (bundles) of three, distinctively pale gray-green, sparse and drooping, and grow to 20-30 cm in length. The seed cones are large and heavy, 12-35 cm in length and almost as wide as they are long. The male cones grow at the base of shoots on the lower branches.

It grows at elevations between sea level and 1200 meters, and is found throughout the state except for the most southerly counties and the eastern counties south of Lake Tahoe. It grows in rocky soil under dry conditions. It commonly occurs in association with Blue Oak Quercus douglasii, and "Oak - Gray Pine vegetation" (also known as "Oak - Foothill Pine vegetation") is used as a description of a kind of habitat characteristic of California, found throughout the hills that ring the Central Valley. In this habitat, the Gray Pine provides a sparse overstory above a canopy of oaks.

The Gray Pine has several additional English names, including Foothill Pine, Ghost Pine, California Foothill Pine, Bull Pine, Nut Pine, and also Digger Pine. This last supposedly came from the fact that Native Americans foraged for its seeds by digging around the base of the tree, although it is more likely that the term was first applied to the people; "Digger Indians" was in common use in California literature from the 1800s. The name is now considered a racial slur, and is best avoided though still in widespread use. It is also sometimes thought of as a pinyon pine, though it does not belong to that group.

The scientific name commemorates Edward Sabine, Anglo-Irish botanist, 1788-1883. It was originally spelled sabiniana; this was an orthographic error, and it has recently been corrected to sabineana. However the revised spelling has not yet passed into general use, and the spelling sabiniana is the one that will most often be encountered.

Gray Pine needles are the only known food of the caterpillars of the gelechiid moth Chionodes sabinianus.


  • Farjon, A. (2005). Pines: Drawings and descriptions of the genus Pinus. Brill. ISBN 90-04-13916-8

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