Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri), ranges from Contra Costa county east of San Francisco, south into Baja California. It grows from about 1,000 feet (sometimes lower) to above 7,000 feet, but is restricted to west and south of the San Joaquin Valley. It is nowhere abundant in foothills, chaparral and oak woodland. It is heat and drought tolerant; it may occur with gray, ponderosa or knobcone pines, and can grow and even hybridize with Jeffrey pine in the southern ranges.
Coulter pine 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 pine is a medium-sized tree that can live to around 100 years. The wood is of little commercial use.
Stout Coulter pine needles occur in threes, are 12 to 14 inches long and have a sharp tip. They are slightly bluish. Below are immature seed cones with luxuriant, spreading foliage.
Coulter pine behind young gray pines in foreground.
Sparsely foliaged, multi-trunked gray pine (Pinus sabiniana).
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.
Coulter pine cone and 14 inch needles.
Smaller 8 inch needles of gray pine are to the right.
Gray pine cones are shorter, wider, rounder and slightly reddish.