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Total Failure of Piñon Pine Nuts in Inyo Mountains

I’ve had to hang out in the Nevada desert while I watch the smoke situation over in the Eastern Sierra from afar. Yesterday and today were usable, but the drab haze was not appealing for enjoyment or photography, so I’ve just been processing and publishing the stuff I’ve already shot. A cold front (15°F drop) is supposed to move in by Monday, with the air clearing starting tomorrow, I hope! Correction: I misread the weather report (did not see the stale date). I am currently in NV with smoke surrounding me on almost all sides, and the Eastern Sierra blotted out by the thick haze—invisible to me now. is as good as far as it goes—but highly misleading at times due to stratification of the air, which can leave the air good in the valley, even as the smoke is much worse higher up. There are few non sensors at altitude along most of the Eastern Sierra for, excepting one at Virginia Lakes, which is not very helpful.

Piñon Pine crop failure

East of Mono Lake at about 7600 feet elevation (Inyo mountain range, east of Eastern Sierra), I examined a number of Piñon Pine trees and their cones. I was unable to find a single edible/viable pine nut anywhere. The vast majority of the cones with shrunken/shriveled and the full-size cones that had matured yielded nuts that were of full size, but were either empty, maggot-holed, or held shriveled kernels 1/20 the volume of a proper pine nut.

Each pinyon cone produces 10 to 30 seeds and a productive stand of pinyon trees in a good year can produce 250 pounds (110 kg) on 1 acre (0.40 ha) of land. An average worker can collect about 22 pounds (10.0 kg) of unshelled pinyon seed in a day's work. Production per worker of 22 pounds of unshelled pinyon seeds—more than one-half that in shelled seeds—amounts to nearly 30,000 calories of nutrition. That is a high yield for the effort expended by hunter-gatherers. Moreover, the pinyon seeds are high in fat, often in short supply for hunter-gatherers.[16]

...The pinyon jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) takes its name from the tree, and pinyon nuts form an important part of its diet. It is very important for regeneration of pinyon woods, as it stores large numbers of the seeds in the ground for later use, and excess seeds not used are in an ideal position to grow into new trees. The Mexican jay is also important for the dispersal of some pinyon species, as, less often, is the Clark's nutcracker. Many other species of animal also eat pinyon nuts, without dispersing them.

Drought stress

Piñon Pine trees are very drought hardy, but a few are dying, and all are showing signs of severe stress. The nil crop of pine nuts surely results from that stress. There have been years where I could make it rain delicious pine nuts by whacking the branches with a tent pole.

While I can go buy some at the supermarket, they are invariably another species from China (no thanks), and don’t taste nearly as good as the fresh fall crop over here.

Another year of drought, and I expect we will see massive die-off of both Piñon Pines and even Juniper tress. The soil is powder-dry and virtually no new vegetation grew this year in the arid areas of the Inyo Mountains.

Below, with the right lighting and exposure, my aging iPhone 7 Plus in RAW can do pretty well.

Piñon Pine cone, shriveled and devoid of pine nuts
f1.8 @ 1/125 sec, ISO 20; 2021-09-23 14:28:33
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus 4.0 mm f/1.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm)
ENV: west of Mono Lake, altitude 7628 ft / 2325 m, 80°F / 26°C

[low-res image for bot]

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