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.
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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