Italian Stone pine
Five years ago I purchased an Italian Stone pine (Pinus pinea) two days after Christmas. It was on the discounted table surrounded by poinsettias and rosemaries sheared into miniature Christmas trees. This small pine with the soft powdery blue needles looked like a Colorado blue spruce without the rigid, sharp needles. The Italian stone pine resided in a festive decorative pot with a garnish of plastic red "berries." I was hooked.
I took it home and planted it in a well-drained location where it receives sun until mid-afternoon in the summertime. After two unusually bitterly cold winters where temperatures dropped to 8 degrees F, and hot, dry, humid summers with no supplemental irrigation, this Mediterranean native flourishes in my South Carolina foothills landscape.
This Italian stone pine morphed from a cute, short-needled blue conifer into a shaggy-looking green-needled attention-getting specimen that's at least 5 feet tall now. Throughout the summer and early fall Italian stone pine produces new shoots studded with short blue needles, which reminded me of its humble beginnings on the "50% off" table. I can't wait for it to reach reproductive maturity so I can harvest its delectable pignolia or pine nuts for pesto.
Interestingly, I've read comments from a variety of "experts" on the internet who nearly dissuaded me from growing this tree, which is widely planted in California and not expected to thrive east of the Mississippi, let alone in the southeast. Fortunately, Italian stone pines can't read.