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Pinus Pinea - Umbrella or Italian stone pine
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Pinus Pinea - Umbrella or Italian stone pine.

Another 'Must Have' for the drought stricken garden.

While on a winter holiday to Northern Spain in December 1975, I went on a walk up into some hills inland from the Costa Brava. The sun was shining and the walk was very pleasant. The hillsides were planted with Pines which I now know to be young Pinus pinea. They were about 15 feet tall and filled the air with a wonderful pine fragrance. I picked up a couple of huge pine cones off the ground and took them back to the hotel. After that on entering the room the wonderful pine fragrance hit me, so I decided to pack them up and take them home.

At home the cones took pride of place on my wardrobe in my bedroom, and acted as an air freshener. Over a period of time the cones dried out and were no longer fragrant, but in the summer of 1977 they opened and dropped pine nuts all over the place. As I was into growing all sorts of plants I decided to give them a go. I sowed the nuts in John Inns No1 and put them on the kitchen window sill. Nothing happened !

After about 4 months I assumed they were not going to germinate and put the tray outside.

During the spring of 1978 while tidying up the patio I came across the tray which had 3 tiny blue/green pine seedlings.

Iím not sure if they germinated over Autumn/Winter or in the early spring, but there they were. I potted them up and grew them on. After 4 years they were about 3 feet tall, and then grew totally different needles. The seedling needles were short single needles very blue/green. The new needles were more like normal pine needles green and in pairs.

I gave 2 of the young trees away to relatives, and left the other with my mother when I moved away as she adored it.

When she moved, she took the Pine with her to South Bemfleet, Essex and planted it out in the garden.

In 1989 it was about 8 feet tall and quite bushy when it produced its first cone. It grew on the tree for a couple of years and then fell. My mother gave me the cone, which reminded me of the Spanish hillside 16 years before. In 1993 the cone opened and Deja vous! I sowed the seed etc

My motherís pine is now around 20 feet tall, and produces cones every year. It is completely hardy and can take being baked bone dry all summer. This would make it ideal for planting in SE England, where excessive house building in threatening our water supply.

The seed I sowed back in 1993 has resulted in a small tree 5 feet in height in a 15 inch tub (far too small)† I gets baked dry in summer and frozen in winter. It even got left in deep shade for a couple of years and didnít bat an eyelid. The plant really is almost unkillable, unless you waterlog it.

My mother has given me 6 ripe cones this year to propagate these wonderful drought tolerant trees. One cone has opened in August and I have sown 31 seed. The other five will remain closed until next year or the year after. Weíll see how they do. It will probably be next spring before I will know the success rate, but the seed have been produced entirely outside, in the UK, fitting in with Hardy Tropicals criteria.

As these trees are grown as a food crop (pine nuts) there is a lot of information on culture. It is suggested to plant them out when very small as they do not like root disturbance. The optimum size being 10cm. Dig in plenty of sharp sand and grit to aid drainage.

Update 25 September 2006

My mother has found self sown pine seedlings in her garden in South Benfleet, Essex. She has potted up several and given me 3. See picture to the right. These look like they germinated in the spring, in which case they must have survived the drought, because she has not watered anything other than pots. I'll keep you updated on these and the seed.

Update 10 November 2006

3 of the seed sown in August have sprouted and are looking very heathy. See pictures below.