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The 2008 crop is in short supply, but has the best flavor and size in years.

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Basic difference
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Crop die off
Pine nuts Differences

The Southwest produces two main varieties of locally harvested pine nuts - They are differentiated by their shell type, size, taste and price.
1) New Mexico / Arizona hard-shell Pinon; locally called "Real Piñon" New Mexico Piñon is often described as buttery or creamy... and after roasting... the toasted creamy flavor is delicious and addictive. Euell Gibbons called the pinon nut "The most palatable of all the wild foods."
2) Nevada soft shell Pine nuts are larger in size and do not taste similar to New Mexico Pinon nuts. They have a very strong distinctive Pine taste. If Price is a barometer... New Mexico Piñon is far and away the most desired Pine nut variety in the world. Other varieties wholesale and retail for approximately 30-50% less than Real Pinon from reputable vendors. The New Mexico Pinon nut considered a delicacy around the world. Pinon nuts are very difficult to harvest, hence their cost.

"A sapped ecosystem" - Heat, drought leave piñon pines vulnerable to beetles By Katy Human - Denver Post Staff Writer. Santa Fe - There were more piñon nuts, but fewer piñon trees this fall - a strange and ill omen for the tough, gnarled pine trees that dominate parts of the Southwest. The recent drought and a beetle epidemic have killed trees across 60,000 square miles, leaving dark and dead piñon pines looming over green junipers. "I don't want to sound too melodramatic, but we're talking about the loss of an entire ecosystem," said Neil Cobb, an ecologist with Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The piñon trees have survived droughts that were drier than this one, Cobb said. But this drought was hotter, and that seems to have pushed the trees over the edge, he said. Still, the piñons that survived produced a bumper crop. Signs hawking the nuts reappeared on Southwestern roadsides, and the nut's wholesale price dropped back below $10 per pound, traders said. "Oh, it's not that bad yet," said Johnny Talamante, a third-generation collector who picks piñon nuts from public lands near Edith, Colo., just north of the New Mexico border. "Some of the trees are dying, but I got 100 pounds this year, easy," Talamante said. Not all collectors are so sanguine. "It's been real bad," said Rachel Alvarez, 67, who has sold piñon nuts and other goods on a street corner in Santa Fe for 33 years. "I don't think our grandkids will know the piñon," she said. A healthy piñon-juniper woodland does not feel like a frail place. Trees thrive on solid rock or rooted in gray soil that looks barren and unfriendly. Piñon pine roots stretch twice as far as their crowns to take advantage of any available water. In early November, the tail end of the piñon-picking season, 30-foot-tall piñons on a mesa near Tres Piedras, N.M., were still laden with 3-inch-long resinous cones, bulging with nuts. Near the Los Alamos National Laboratory, 60 miles south, the scene was strikingly different. Every piñon pine taller than 10 feet was dead, most standing dark and barren of needles. Ecologist Clifton Meyer walked among the trees, pointing out wires snaking over the ground, occasionally dipping down into the soil to sample moisture content. Wind gauges, small weather stations and plastic tubes were scattered among the surviving juniper. "It was the beetles that killed them," Meyer said, pointing out hundreds of tiny holes riddling the trunk of a dead pine. "And extreme temperatures," added Paul Rich, also an ecologist with the national laboratory. Pine beetles - a natural part of the piñon-juniper ecosystem - bore through the trunks of the trees and lay eggs inside. The larvae gnaw through a layer of nutrient-transporting tissue. A healthy tree can weather a beetle attack, Meyer and Rich said, but trees stressed by drought can't make enough sap to "pitch out" the insects. Many of the standing dead trees at Los Alamos had lived more than 150 years and carried scars from previous beetle attacks and droughts. "That tree survived three, four droughts," said Randy Balice, an ecologist at the federal laboratory, placing a hand on the trunk of a tree about 30 feet tall. "But it couldn't survive this one," Balice said. To understand the reason, the scientists pored through decades of data collected by the National Weather Service and Los Alamos forest monitors. The most recent drought was bad, but not quite as dry as one in the 1950s. Beetles were around during both. It was hotter this time by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and that extra heat seems to have been the tipping point for much of the piñon in the Southwest, the researchers concluded. That's sobering news, because it's likely to get even hotter, said Dave Breshears, an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "At this rate of global warming, our piñon-juniper woodlands are going to be experiencing temperatures that are really more like desert temperatures by the turn of the next century," Breshears said. "It's hard to imagine they're going to be the same woodlands they are today," he said. Warmer weather could also help beetle populations thrive, the scientists said. Alvarez, on the street corner in Santa Fe, said she hated to imagine a future in which the only pine nuts available were imported from China, like so many of the packaged pine nuts sold in supermarkets. "No flavor," Alvarez said. And Breshears cautions that even if the future isn't plagued by hotter droughts, it'll be a long time before the Southwest's piñons come back, because the trees grow so slowly. "Whatever you care about - nuts, animals, using piñon for fuel wood, grazing ..." he said, "it's going to be impacted for decades at best." http://denverpost.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp?article=3235274

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