Singleleaf pinyon, also piñon (Spanish), is a small tree found primarily on the eastern side of the Sierra, from around 5000 to 7500 feet, and in the White Mountains, the Transverse Ranges of southern California, and throughout the Great Basin. Often it grows with juniper (pinyon-juniper woodland) in the belt above chaparral and below montane.
Hiking below Mist Falls, above the South Fork Kings River, in Kings Canyon National Park, I spied a singleleaf pinyon. Wait, I thought, I'm on the west side, and I thought they were only on the east side of the Sierra.The grayish color and chunky cones were unmistakable, and after later sleuthing, I found this passage in Stephen Arno's Discovering Sierra Trees: "The tree inhabits the west slopes of the Sierra only in a few localities... pinyons can be seen clinging to the hot, south-facing wall of Kings Canyon above Cedar Grove. Indians from these areas on the Sierra west slope climbed across the Sierra crest in order to trade with Great Basin Piutes for obsidian to make arrowheads. It seems likely that these traders brought pinyon nuts back home across the mountains, and perhaps, intentionally or not, planted the pinyons of Yosemite and Kings Canyon."
Unexpected singleleaf pinyon growing above the South Fork Kings River, in Kings Canyon National Park, east of Cedar Grove.
Singleleaf pinyon is unique among pines, in that needles occur singly, instead of in groups of two to five. Large seeds provide excellent food for animals and humans. Seed cones take two years to mature, then shed seeds and fall soon thereafter.
Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseous) in August at Forks campground above Bishop
Singleleaf pinyon growing with Jeffrey pines, big sagebrush, and rabbitbrush at Forks campground above Bishop