Trees & Shrubs – The Scots Pine – Pinus sylvestris Family: Pinaceae in the division Pinophyta, also known as division Coniferophyta or Coniferae, the Conifers.
Scots pine is an evergreen conifer native to northern Europe, and is one of just three conifers native to the UK.
Common name: Scots pine
Scientific name: Pinus sylvestris Family: Pinaceae
UK provenance: native
Interesting fact: the needles on young trees grow longer than those on older trees.
In the past (before the 18th century), this species was more often known as “Scots fir” or “Scotch fir”.
Other names sometimes used include Riga pine and Norway pine, and Mongolian pine for var. mongolica. “Scotch pine” is another variant of the common name, used mostly in North America.
The timber from it is also called red deal or yellow deal.
Another name, although less common, is European redwood.
Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) is a species of pine that is native to Eurasia, ranging from Western Europe to Eastern Siberia, south to the Caucasus Mountains and Anatolia, and north to well inside the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. In the north of its range, it occurs from sea level to 1,000 m, while in the south of its range it is a high altitude mountain tree, growing at 1,200–2,600 metres (3,900–8,500 ft) altitude. It is readily identified by its combination of fairly short, blue-green leaves and orange-red bark.
What does Scots pine look like?
Overview: mature trees grow to 35m and can live for up to 700 years. The bark is a scaly orange-brown, which develops plates and fissures with age. Twigs are green-brown and hairless.
Leaves: the needle-like leaves are blue-green and slightly twisted, and grow in pairs on short side shoots.
Flowers: scots pine is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. Male flowers comprise clusters of yellow anthers at the base of shoots. Female flowers are small, red-purple and globular, and grow at the tips of new shoots.
Fruits: after pollination by wind, the female flowers turn green and develop into cones. They mature the following season, so there are always cones of different ages on the one tree. Mature cones are grey-brown with a raised, circular bump at the centre of each scale.
Look out for: mature trees have reddish bark towards the crown of the tree and brown bark towards the base. The needles are twisted and when broken they have a fine white fringe of hairs.
Could be confused with: can be confused with other pine species.
Identified in winter by: it is an evergreen so it features are present year round.
Where to find scots pine
Scots pine is the only truly native pine in the UK. It thrives in heathland and is widely planted for timber, but is also found in abundance in the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands.
Value to wildlife
The Caledonian Forest is a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is home to rare species such as the creeping lady’s tresses and lesser twayblade orchids, the Scottish wood ant and Rannoch looper, and the capercaillie, crested tit and Scottish crossbill. Mammals include the red squirrel, pine marten and Scottish wildcat.
Mythology and symbolism
There is little folklore associated with the Scots pine, although there is some history of spiritual significance, which can be traced back to Celtic times. It is thought that in England, Scots pines were planted around farmsteads as windbreaks, and clusters of pines growing along old droveways helped travellers find out where they were going in inclement weather.
How we use Scots pine
Scots pine timber is one of the strongest softwoods available, and is widely used in the construction industry and in joinery. It is used in the manufacture of telegraph poles, pit props, gate posts and fencing. The tree can also be tapped for resin to make turpentine. Other uses include rope made from the inner bark, tar from the roots and a dye from the cones. Dry cones can be used as kindling for fires.
Scots pine is susceptible to red band needle blight, root and butt rot, needle cast disease and pine stem rust, which leads to cankers and distorted branches. The pine tree lappet moth can cause serious defoliation of Scots pine and may threaten pine forests in Scotland.
The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), from Edward Step’s Wayside and woodland trees.
Bole of Scots Pine.
The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), commonly but incorrectly styled Scotch Fir, is the typical Pine-tree of Northern Europe, where (especially in Russia and Northern Germany) it constitutes huge forests. It is even said to cover far wider tracts of country than any other forest tree. Although there is evidence that in ancient days it was pretty widely distributed over Britain, to-day all those Pine-woods of Southern England are the results of planting, and it is only in a few places between Yorkshire and Sutherland, and in Ireland, that it can be regarded as truly wild and indigenous. Mr. John Nisbet points out that the term “pine-forest” is a bit of tautology, for the old German word forst was derived from foraha—now represented by föhre, a fire or pine—so that “pine-forest” is equivalent to “pine-pine.” However, the etymologists will probably allow us to speak of Pine-woods, and we will try to remember that when we use the word forest it must always indicate an assemblage of Pine-trees.
In favourable soil, at a moderate elevation, the Scots Pine is a fine tree a hundred feet high, with a rough-barked trunk, whose girth is twelve feet. Under such conditions it develops a strong tap-root, which goes deep; but where the soil is shallow or otherwise unfavourable the tap-root is not developed. At great elevations the upward growth is checked early, and it becomes a mere evergreen bush. The branches are short and spreading, those on the lower portions of the trunk dying early, so that the tree soon gets that gaunt weather-beaten look that is so characteristic of it. Then, after the growth of the leading shoot has become feeble, the upper branches continue to lengthen, and so bring about that flat-topped condition. Its growth is rapid, and in twenty years it will attain a height of forty or fifty feet.
The leaves, which are in bundles of two, are from two to three inches long, very slender, grooved above and convex beneath. They remain on the tree for over two years, and in their first season are of a glaucous hue, but in the second year this changes to dark deep-green. Both male and female flowers are borne by the same tree. The male catkins are individually small (¼ inch), but are combined in spikes; this and the abundant pale yellow pollen makes them conspicuous. The female cones are somewhat egg-shaped, tapering to a point, which is often curved. They are usually in clusters of three, and grow to a length of two or three inches. The scales are comparatively few, and their ends are thickened into an irregular four-sided boss, at first ending in a little point. The seeds are winged, and contained beneath the scales. They take about eighteen months to ripen, when the scales separate in dry windy weather, and allow the breeze to pick out the seeds and send them flying through the air to a great distance. The pollen, too, it should be noted, is of a form specially fitted for aerial transport, each particle of pollen forming two connected spheres. It is quite a common experience in May to find little heaps of this pollen collected in hollows and at the margins of ponds in the neighbourhood of Pine-woods; but, so difficult is it to get people to understand the common facts of nature, that it is generally regarded as evidence of a shower of brimstone having fallen. It is not only the ignorant rustic who falls into this error; judging from letters sent to the press by country parsons, even the universities fail to prepare their alumni to deal with such phenomena. After the eruptions of La Soufriere, several wrote to say that quantities of powdered sulphur from St. Vincent had descended in their Surrey and Hampshire parishes! their notion being that the commercial “flowers of sulphur” are the direct produce of volcanoes.
Although the wood produced by the Scots Pine in this country is not considered of the highest quality, the species is certainly of equal value as a timber-producer with any other tree. Owing to our mild winters and long periods of seasonal growth, the Pine-wood produced in Britain is coarse-grained and not very durable. In the colder parts of Northern Europe, where summers are short and the long winters are severe, the texture of the timber is more solid and the grain closer. And so enormous quantities of Pine-wood come to us from the Baltic ports every year. In addition to the timber, other valuable substances known to commerce are products of the Scots Pine—pitch and tar, resin and turpentine, for example. The Pine is an accommodating tree, for though it likes a deep soil in which to strike its tap-root, it will grow upon rocky ground, where the roots have to become horizontal and near the surface; or it will form forests on poor sandy soils, even on the loose hot sands near the seashore. This is a valuable power, because the fall of its needles gradually forms a humus, and so provides food for other plants which could not exist on raw sand.
Male Flowers of Scots Pine.
Over 100 Pinus sylvestris varieties have been described in the botanical literature, but only three or four are now accepted. They differ only minimally in morphology, but with more pronounced differences in genetic analysis and resin composition. Populations in westernmost Scotland are genetically distinct from those in the rest of Scotland and northern Europe, but not sufficiently to have been distinguished as a separate botanical variety. Trees in the far north of the range were formerly sometimes treated as var. lapponica, but the differences are clinal and it is not genetically distinct.
- Pinus sylvestris var. sylvestris. The bulk of the range, from Scotland and Spain to central Siberia. Described above.
- Pinus sylvestris var. hamata Steven. The Balkans, northern Turkey, Crimea, and the Caucasus. Foliage more consistently glaucous all year, not becoming duller in winter; cones more frequently with a pyramidal apophysis.
- Pinus sylvestris var. mongolica Litv. Mongolia and adjoining parts of southern Siberia and northwestern China. Foliage duller green, shoots grey-green; leaves occasionally up to 12 cm long.
- Pinus sylvestris var. nevadensis D.H.Christ. The Sierra Nevada in southern Spain and possibly other Spanish populations (not considered distinct from var. sylvestris by all authors) Kalenicz. Ex Kom. Cones often with thicker scales, but doubtfully distinguishable on morphology.
- Pinus sylvestris var. cretacea Kalenicz. ex Kom. From border regions between Russia and Ukraine.
Several cultivars are grown for ornamental purposes in parks and large gardens, of which ‘Beuvronensis’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s. Award of Garden Merit.