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Today’s needles are those of Pinus sabiniana. The Audobon guide calls it “digger pine,” but when I looked it up online in search of a larger photo to work from, the common names that kept coming up were foothill pine, towani pine, or most often, gray pine. I thought the clue to the change was in the Audobon guide itself, which noted that “digger pine” came from the name given (by Europeans, one can infer) to the many Indian tribes of the west as a whole. Hm, sounds pejorative, and sure enough, the Jepson Manual of 1993 advises against it (see how much I’m learning? I knew next to nothing about California plants before this week, and now I am tossing around terms like “the Jepson Manual”). My Audobon guide was published in 1980: progress.

It seems fitting, therefore, to add here its common name in various Californian languages–which, contra those who lumped the tribes into one, are greatly varied. People of the Ohlone language group, the region in which I live, call it xirren or hireeni. Others known to Leanne Hinton (author of Flutes of fire :essays on California Indian languages. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books) are tujhalo (Achumawi), axyúsip (Karuk), sakky (Southern Sierra Miwok), gapga (Klamath), sakky (Chimariko), tunah (Mono), náyo (Wappo), c’ala’i (Yana), tuwa (Patwin) and, the one that has made its way into wider use, towáni (Maidu). Some of these languages are critically endangered or extinct, and with them, the lore embedded in these names. The nuts of pinus sabiniana are particularly good to eat, and several Californian languages have words specifically for the nut, and in one case different words for the ripe and unripe version.

On a lighter linguistic note, when I was a child, I thought “penis” was spelled “pinus,” so that seeing the scientific name of pine species still gives my inner six-year-old a giggle.

Unlike the previous two trees, the gray pine is native to California.


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