Korean Pine, Pinus koraiensis
I’m totally nuts for this tree. One of the few particularly cold hardy nut pines (AKA stone pines), and it grows to 100 feet and lives 1000 years! Plus it has some serious staple potential…
- Cold hardiness zones: 3 – 7 (can withstand cold to -40° F), and sometimes listed as going down to zone 2.
- Soil PH: 4.5 – 7i (Adaptable to most soil types and PH ranges as long as they are well-drained,ii though pines tend to prefer somewhat acidic soils.
- Watering needs: low—only occasional once established
- Blooming Season: early spring
- Harvest season: Summer-Fall (of the following year)
- Nutting age: 10 – 20 years
- Average mature yield: 20 pounds or more (9+ KG)iii
- Pollination for nuts: Though the Korean pine should be able to produce nuts on its own, having a second tree should ensure good nut production. It is wind-pollinated, so having other Korean pines around helps with this.*
- Size at maturity: 60 – 100 feet tall, 15-20 foot wide (21 – 30.5 by 4.5 – 6 meters)
- Sun needs: Full sun to half day of sun
- Preferred habitat: Subalpine forests at high altitudes (4,200 – 8000 feet, or 1,280 – 2438 meters)iv
- Growth rate (vigor): Slowv
- Natural reproductive rate (and methods): low
- Propagation method: Seeds. Pine seeds can be stratified easily outdoors by filling a lidded bucket (poked with holes in the top and bottom) with sand mixed with pine seeds in the fall, filling the bucket with water (which will drain out the bottom holes), and then burying the bucket to ground level. This mimics the seeds being buried by animals and forgotten. Then, in the spring, when it’s warm enough to plant, pull out the bucket and carefully sift through the sand, gently removing the seedlings from the sand. If the propagation was successful, long roots will be extending from the seeds (sometimes 4 – 12 inch roots, or 10 – 30 cm). Carefully plant these in their permanent location with the root poking down and the seed just below the surface. A light mulch layer can help retain moisture and provide additional protection to the seedling.
- Average life span: 1000 years.vi
- Plant family: Pinaceae
Korean pines could be labeled as a king of the food forest. Due to their size, a thick bunch of Korean pines would make an excellent windbreak.* And for those in cold climates, it is one of only a few stone pine species that can comfortably grow. Pinyon pine, one of the most common commercial pine-nut producing species, tends to grow in zones 5 and higher.
Be aware that to harvest pine nuts, you’ll want to take them while the cone is still green. Some sources say to take them early and then let them dry, others say to harvest 10 days before the cones open. A simple Google search of “How to harvest pine nuts” will give you a plethora of ideas of how to do this, but the main point is to harvest the cones while their green, but almost ready to open.
Korean pine nuts are comparable in size to commercial other pine nuts, about the size of commercial pistachios. In many parts of the world, Korean pines are highly valued for their rich flavored nuts and nutritional value.vii Because of their abundance, Korean pine nuts certainly qualify as a potential staple food—to be eaten in quantity by many people over many years. Their abundance of healthy fats, oils, and a plethora of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acidsviii make them a food worth cultivating and even commercializing. Probably the biggest challenge to this is the work of cracking open the nuts, though this has been mostly solved with pretty much all other kinds of nuts, and with demand is likely to happen with pine nuts as well. Another challenge is the difficulty in harvesting cones high in the tree. Chances are, however, you’ll be able to get all you need from the lower, reachable branches. The rest will either eventually fall, or be enjoyed by wildlife.
If you haven’t eaten pine nuts before, they are kind of like a juicy peanut with a softer, subtler, and sweeter flavor. They might be better compared with the taste and texture of a cashew. If there is bitterness in the flavor, it probably means they’ve been stored too long and are going rancid (roasting or drying can prevent them from getting to this point). Their flavor should be only sweet and nutty. Korean pine nuts taste like this (cashew-like), but with the slightest resin taste. They can be eaten fresh, dried, roasted, or ground to flour. Most often, they are roasted and then used in dozens of recipes that can be easily found on the Internet. Entrees, snacks, desserts are only a few of the uses for pine nuts. Plus they can probably act as a substitute for any recipe calling for cashews or peanuts.
As for non-food uses for Korean pine, crafters might take great interest in the large, lovely cones that house the nuts. The major difference between commercial pine-nuts and common local pine trees is the size of the cone—the bigger the cone, the bigger the nuts inside.
* Though Korean pine is an alpine tree, it is susceptible to wind damage if grown in isolation, so growing among other Korean pines, or other supportive canopy-layer trees, is recommended.ix Also, for a small number of people with a sensitivity toward pine nuts, eating pine nuts can result in a rare but temporary phenomenon referred to as “Pine mouth.” For these people, within a couple days after eating pine nuts, an odd coppery taste develops in the mouth that can last anywhere from a couple days to four weeks. Though rare, those who find themselves sensitive to pine mouth should probably avoid eating pine nuts. This sensitivity, however, may be limited to nuts from the pine species Pinus armandii (Armand pine or Chinese white pine).x