Hunting for Jeffrey pine

Young Victorian plant hunter John Jeffrey — the main character in my latest book GREEN GOLD — is remembered today by the name of a pine tree he discovered in 1852 in northern California.

John Jeffrey sent seeds from 119 plant species home to Edinburgh, and more than 400 specimens were received by the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, including seeds and/or specimens of 35 conifer species.

His name is remembered by the Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi). It is a majestic tree with long green needles bundled in threes, and boasts giant attractive cones. It remains quite an unusual tree in the UK although it is found in many of our botanic gardens. I’ve been searching for some specimens outside these gardens and recently received a strong lead that a large specimen was growing at Pinner Memorial Park in North London.

Pinner Memorial Park

I tracked down the tall (40m) three-needled pine growing next to the coral-pink community centre in the north-east corner of the park.

Pinus jeffreyi
This is a cone I picked up from under the tree at Pinner Memorial Park. Sadly it was prickly rather than gentle, so my search continues.

‘Gentle Jeffrey or prickly ponderosa’

This mnemonic is perhaps the easiest way to remember how to differentiate two closely-related pine species: Jeffrey and ponderosa pines. Run your hand over the cone and feel the spines at the tips of their scales. When wet, the Jeffrey pine’s spines curve inward and the cone feels smooth.

Unfortunately, I believe this tree was the closely-related ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) so my search continues. I’d be pleased to receive any leads from readers – contact me.

Find out more about my book GREEN GOLD

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