Pinus sylvestris / Scots pine

subgenus Pinus, section, Pinus, subsection Pinus. This is one of the “classic” old-world, 2-needled, hard pines.

Pinus sylvestris, as described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus (or Carolus Linnæus) (1707–1778), in Species Plantarum vol. 2, is commonly known as Scots pine; or as Бял бор in the Bulgarian language; as 歐洲赤松 in Chinese; as borovice lesní in Czech]; as skovfyr in Danish; as grove den in Dutch; as pin sauvage in French; as waldkiefer in German; as pino silvestre in Italian; as furu in Norwegian; as Сосна обыкновенная in Russian; and as pino silvestre in Spanish. The term 'Scotch' pine is incorrect and should not be used, as these trees are not a source of that celebrated intoxicant.

Over 100 Pinus sylvestris varieties have been described in the botanical literature, but only three widely 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.

  • P. sylvestris var. sylvestris. The bulk of the range, from Scotland and Spain to central Siberia. Described above.
  • P. 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.
  • P. 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.
Illustration from "Köhlers Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen und kurz erläuterndem Texte"
Illustration from "Köhlers Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen und kurz erläuterndem Texte"

Description. Scots pine is an evergreen coniferous tree which will reach mature heights of 110 feet (35 m), with a trunk up to 3 feet (1 m) in diameter at, measured at breast height. Exceptionally trees reach 145 feet (45 m) tall with a 5.5 foot (1.7 m) trunk diameter and within some very productive sites in the forests of Järvselja, Estonia, there are some 220-year-old trees that are nearly 150 feet (46 m) tall. A tree's lifespan is normally 150 to 300 years, with the oldest recorded specimens in Sweden and Norway just over 700 years. The habit of the mature tree is distinctive due to its long, bare and straight trunk topped by a rounded or flat-topped mass of foliage.

  • Bark is thick, scaly dark grey-brown on the lower trunk, and thin, flaky and orange on the upper trunk and branches.
  • Shoots are light brown in color, with a spirally arranged scale-like pattern.
  • Leaves (needles) on mature trees glaucous Blue-green in color, often darker green to dark yellow-green in winter. Individual needles measure 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5 cm) long and 0.04 to 0.08 inch (1 – 2 mm) thick, produced in fascicles of 2 with a persistent, gray, 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5 – 10 mm) basal sheath. On vigorous young trees the leaves can be twice as long, and occasionally occur in fascicles of three or four at the tips of strong shoots. Leaf persistence varies from two to four years in warmer climates, and up to nine years in subarctic regions. Seedlings up to one year old bear juvenile leaves; these are single (not in pairs), 0.8 to 1.6 inches (2 – 3 cm) long, flattened, with a serrated margin.
  • Seed cones are red at pollination, then pale brown, globose, measuring 0.16 to 0.32 inch (4 – 8 mm) in diameter in their first year, expanding to full size in their second year. Each is pointed ovoid-conically shaped, green in color, then gray-green to yellow-brown at maturity, measuring 1.6 to 3 inches (3 - 7.5 cm) in length.
  • Pollen cones are yellow, occasionally pink in color, measuring 0.32 to 0.64 inch (8 – 12 mm) long. Pollen bloom takes place in mid- to late-spring.
  • Cone scales bear a flat to pyramidal apophysis, with a small prickle on the umbo.
  • Seeds are blackish in color, measuring 0.12 to 0.2 inch (3 – 5 mm) long with a pale brown, 0.5 to 0.8 inch (12 – 20 mm) wing which are released when the cones open in spring 22 to 24 months after pollination.
Distribution map of the native ranges of Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) — in Asia and Europe.
Distribution map of the native ranges of Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) — in Asia and Europe.

Distribution. This species is native to Europe and Asia, ranging from Scotland, Ireland and Portugal in the west, east to eastern Siberia, south to the Caucasus Mountains, and north to well inside the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. In the north of its range, it occurs elevations from sea level to 3,200 feet (1,000 m), while in the south of its range it is a high altitude mountain tree, growing at elevations of 3,800 to 8,300 feet (1,200 – 2,600 m) above sea level.

Hardy to USDA Zone 3 — cold hardiness limit between -40° and -30°F (-39.9° and -34.4°C).

Pinus sylvestris, Spittal of Glenmuick, Cairngorm National Park, Scotland
Photo by Bruce McAdam via Wikipedia
Scots Pine cones near Boronów, Poland.
Photo by Pleple2000 via Wikipedia
Pinus sylvestris with light snow cover, Loch Garten, Nethybridge, Scotland
Photo by Lee Carson via Wikipedia

Comments