COULTER PINE (Pinus coulteri), ranges from Contra Costa county south into Baja California. It grows in similar habitat to gray pine, about 1,000 feet to above 3,000 feet (possibly higher at southern locations), but is restricted to west of the San Joaquin Valley. It is much less abundant than gray pine.
Coulter pine also exhibits variable closed-coneness, an adaptation to fire, opening to release seeds only in extreme heat or fire. In some cases cones open readily and in others cones remain tightly sealed for a number of years.
Coulter pines in the open can retain branches almost to the ground.
Stout Coulter pine needles occur in threes, are 12 to 14 inches long and have a sharp tip. They are slightly bluish. Above are immature seed cones with luxuriant, spreading foliage.
Open, sparsely foliaged, multi-trunked gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) for comparison
Cones are massive, 6 to 12 inches long, and have huge, clawlike tips on the scales. Cones take two years to mature, and fully ripened can weigh up to nine pounds.
Seeds are edible and nutritious, similar to those of gray and sugar pines, which were harvested by Native Americans. However there is a paucity of information about use of Coulter pine nuts.
Coulter pine cone and 14 inch needles. Smaller 8 inch needles of gray pine are to the right.
Gray pine cone shown roughly in proportion to Coulter pine cone. Gray pine cones are shorter, wider, and rounder.