Scots pine

Scots pine
Pinus sylvestris

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The Scots pine belongs to the genus Pinus and is a member of the Pine family (Pinaceae).

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is a conifer tree growing to over 35m and flowering May to June.

Lifespan: in the UK some of the oldest trees are over 500 years old and in Europe some are over 700 years of age.

 

Characteristics

Bark is scaly grey-brown with a distinctive orange-red colouration; with age, the bark becomes more plated and fissured. Buds are small, pointed and reddish-brown.

Needles are 3–8cm long, 1–2mm wide and blue-green. They grow in bunches of two on short side shoots.

Scots pine is monoecious: both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male flowers are clusters of yellow (occasionally crimson) anthers growing at the base of shoots. Female flowers grow at the tips of new shoots; these are small, rosy-purple and globular, with scales protruding.

The Scots pine is wind pollinated; the wind carries pollen from male to female flowers. Once pollinated the female flowers turn green and develop into mature cones during the next season. This means there will always be more than one set of cones on the tree; the younger ripening cones (green) and the older mature cones (brown). Mature cones are dull grey-brown (5–8cm); each scale has a raised knob in the centre.

Scots pine tree
Scots pine leaves (needles)

Distribution

Scots pine is one of three native conifers in the UK. It is the only native conifer with commercial significance and accounts for 16% of the entire conifer area of the UK; second only to Sitka spruce.

Its natural range stretches across the whole of northern Europe, making it the most widely distributed conifer species in the world.

Scots pine grows best on light, well-drained non-calcareous soils, sands and gravels. It is a frequent coloniser of heathland.

One of the best remaining examples of naturally occurring Scots pine forest can be found in the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands. Here, Scots pine is found in natural association with birch, rowan, scattered juniper and a ground flora of heather and bracken. Work is underway to restore the Caledonia Forest, which once covered much of the Highlands. Visit Trees for Life.

Human value

The timber is clear with narrow rings and has a creamy-white to yellow colour. Scots pine timber is also known in the forestry trade as ‘European redwood’. This additional name is used to differentiate between home-grown and Scots pine imported from the continent.

Combining good strength with light weight it is easy to work and takes nails well. When treated, Scots pine timber is durable outside.

Modern uses include interior and exterior joinery, decking, cladding, wood-based panels and fencing. Clear timber can produce excellent veneer.

Its tolerance of dry conditions may make it a valuable species if drought risk increases due to climate change. It can also be planted in afforestation projects as a nurse for more demanding species.

Scots pine flowers
Scots pine tree

Wildlife value

Scots pine is an important native wildlife tree.

The native pine woodland of the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands is a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. It has characteristic plant and animal communities which include many rare and uncommon species.

The field layer is characterised by acid tolerant plants such as bell heather, billberry and crowberry. Rare plants include the creeping shrub ‘twinflower’ and orchids such as creeping lady’s tresses and the lesser twayblade.

The habitat supports invertebrates such as the Scottish wood ant, the Rannoch looper and chestnut-coloured carpet moths and a number of specialist hoverflies. The UK’s only endemic bird species all thrive there, including distinctive birds such as the capercaillie, the crested tit and the Scottish crossbill. Mammals include the red squirrel, pine martin and Scottish wildcat.

The Scots pine tree has symbiotic relationships with numerous species of fungi; some of which are very rare. Old and dead trees support significant bryophyte, lichen and beetle communities.

Management

A light-demanding pioneer species which grows well on acid to neutral, drier soils of low fertility. Scots pine is fast growing and frost hardy but does not flourish in very exposed situations, on deep peaty or calcareous soils.

Seeds are normally collected in January and sown late March/early April. No pre-treatment is required.

Scots pine is susceptible to red band needle blight (a notifiable disease). It can also be vulnerable to fomes ; a root and butt rot (Heterobasidion annosum), a needle cast disease caused by fungi (Lophodermium, Brunchorstia) and a pine stem rust (Peridermium) which leads to cankers and distorted branches.

The pine tree lappet moth (Dendrolinus pini) has also caused serious defoliation of Scots pine and may threaten pine forests in Scotland.

A European-wide project aiming to encourage greater use of Scots pine in forestry ‘Developing the Scots pine resource’ provides detailed information on the ecology and management of this species. Visit The Scots Pine Resource.

Scots pine log

Illustrations © Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
Scots pine photograph © Debbie Cotton
Scots pine log photograph © Forestry Commission