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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/46

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36
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Pinus Coulteri, which in many respects resembles the last, is more southern in its habit, occupying the mountains of California south of San Francisco. The cones are similar to those of P. Sabiniana, but much longer, often one foot in length by five or six inches in diameter, and having a conical form. The seeds are large, bean-shaped, and edible. Like those of all the nut-pines they have a strong terebinthine taste when raw, but this disappears when they are roasted, as they generally are by Indians and whites.

By far the most interesting and economically important of the nut-pines is the "Piñon" (P. edulis), which inhabits the almost desert portions of the Great Basin of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. In some parts of Nevada and Utah its monophyllous variety occupies, with a sparse and scattered growth, large areas, where it is the only tree, except a bushy cedar (Juniperus Utahensis). In Arizona, New Mexico, and Southwestern Colorado, its normal or two-leaved form is everywhere present, sometimes forming what might be called a forest growth, though the trees are never large nor closely set. In all these regions the wood of the "Piñon" is the chief dependence of the lead smelters for fuel, since it is quite dense, and, unlike that of any other conifer, furnishes good charcoal. Equally valuable is this tree to the native population, from the subsistence afforded by its nuts. The cones are small and ovoid in form; the wingless seeds are elliptical in outline, half an inch in length, and very palatable when roasted. The tree is said to fruit abundantly but once in three years; different colonies, fortunately, having different periods, so that there is no year in which there is entire failure of the crop, except when one of the terrible droughts characteristic of the climate occurs.

At the season of the nut-harvest the natives migrate to the groves of "Piñon," and gather the nuts in large quantities to be stored for future use. They are treasured as their choicest delicacies; and a handful of pine-nuts is to an Indian child as much of a treat as are sugar-plums to our boys and girls. Some of the Piñon-groves on the flanks of the Sierra de la Plata in Southwestern Colorado have evidently been visited periodically by the Pueblo Indians for ages; for fragments of their peculiar ornamented pottery cover the ground; at least every square yard has its potsherd.

The seeds of Pinus flexilis and P. albicaulis are smaller than those already mentioned, and the trees are more Alpine in habit and scattered; the nuts have, therefore, comparatively little value to the Indians, but they are an all-important source of food to the squirrels which inhabit the regions where they grow.

The more southern nut-pines, Pinus cembroides and P. Parryiana, are similar in their habit to P. edulis, of which they are, indeed, probably varieties. Their seeds, like those of the Piñon, are used by the natives in the same way, and are only less important because the trees are more restricted in their range.