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What Is an Umbrella Pine?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2014
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An Umbrella Pine, scientific name Pinus pinea, is a species of pine that is the source of the pignolia, or pine, nut. It has an unusual shape for a pine tree, with a visible trunk and a very wide gently rounded top that resembles an open umbrella. It is native to the Mediterranean and thrives in a warm climate. It is cultivated extensively for its nuts and is attractive when used for landscaping.

There are several other common names for the Umbrella Pine, including Italian stone pine, parasol pine, and nut pine. These names reference the nut with its hard shell or the shape of the tree. The nuts are eaten all over the world. The shape of the tree is very distinctive, with its wide, slightly flattened, smoothly rounded top that looks like an open umbrella. The trees start out looking like traditional pine trees and develop the unique shape as they mature.

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The typical height of the Umbrella Pine is about 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 m) on average, but it can grow as tall as 82 feet (25 m). The trunk is covered in reddish brown thick bark with a network of deep cracks. The tree top usually spreads to a width of 30 to 35 feet (9 to 10.7 m) across with densely interwoven branches. The foliage is evergreen with medium green needles that grow in pairs, usually reaching full mature length when the tree is at least five years old. Mature foliage has very long needles that grow in a fan-like formation.

The Umbrella Pine usually produces a large number of glossy brown pine cones to carry and protect the seeds. These cones take at least 36 months to fully mature, with each one producing numerous edible seeds or nuts. The pine nuts are a tasty source of protein and are eaten alone or used as an ingredient in many regional recipes. The Umbrella Pine has been in cultivation for an estimated 6,000 years. The attractive tree also appears in several Renaissance paintings.

The native area of the Umbrella Pine is the Mediterranean, ranging from southern Europe to northern Africa, and it's commonly seen in Italy. It grows well in a warm climate, but it can become damaged if exposed to extremely cold winter temperatures. Aside from cultivation for the nuts, it is also planted for ornamental purposes in landscaping and along roadsides. One year old seedlings are often sold as tabletop Christmas trees. In the proper climate, it is extremely hardy and easy to grow, needing only occasional watering.

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