Corsican pine

Corsican pine
Pinus nigra
var. maritima

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

Corsican pine (Pinus nigra var. maritima) is a conifer species growing to over 40m and flowering May to June.

Lifespan: In the UK, the Corsican pine has reached ages of 200 years. In its native range it has lived for over 500 years.

 

Characteristics

A straight-boled, lightly branched tree with thick bark of greyish-pink to greyish-black (giving the name; nigra), fibrous and finely flaking becoming deeply furrowed and plated with age. Shoots are yellow-brown and slightly ridged. Terminal buds are brown, 1.5–2cm, broad at the base and narrow abruptly to a sharp point, often coated in white resin.

Needles are long (8–14cm), grey-green, soft with a distinctive twist so they appear wavy. They grow in pairs.

Corsican pine is monoecious; both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male flowers are 1.3cm barrel-shaped clusters of yellow anthers growing at the base of shoots. Female flowers grow at the tips of the shoot; these are small (5mm), ovoid and rosy-pink. The tree is wind pollinated.

The cones are large (5–8cm), mid-brown and slightly lopsided and uneven in shape; they mature two years after flowering, usually in December. Seeds are large and winged.

Corsican pine

Corsican pine leaves

Corsican pine flowers

Distribution

The Corsican pine is a local variation (subspecies) of the black pine (Pinus nigra). It is native to Corsica, southern Italy and Sicily. The black pine has a number of other subspecies and overall they account for a large distribution across southern and eastern Europe.

The Corsican pine was introduced to the UK in the late 18th century and widely planted in forests, parks and gardens. It has been a successful timber tree in drier, warmer parts of the UK due to its rapid growth and straight trunk. However, its susceptibility to red band needle blight makes its future as a timber tree uncertain.

Corsican pine currently represents 3% of the total conifer area of the UK.

Human value

The timber has pale creamy-brown sapwood and a well-marked yellow-brown heartwood. It is similar in appearance to Scots pine with wider annual rings and is used for similar purposes. The wood is stable, coarse-textured and of medium strength (being stronger than spruce). Freshly cut logs can be attacked by blue stain fungi and should be extracted and dried rapidly.

Corsican pine timber is used in structural building work such as roofing, flooring and internal joinery and for box making, chipboard and paper pulp. The timber is not durable but the sapwood is easily treated for outdoor use.

The leaves and resin are used to make turpentine and the resin is also used to make wax, varnish, wood preservative and rosin for stringed instruments. It is also used as a medicinal herb.

Corsican pine tree
Corsican pine canopy

Wildlife value

The crossbill, a large finch, relies on conifer trees such as the Corsican pine, especially in areas where spruce is uncommon. The bird has a specially adapted beak which enables it to extract seeds from cones growing on the tree.

Planted Corsican pine forests, such as Thetford in East Anglia, are known to support a high number of invertebrate species, especially beetles and hoverflies and birds such as the woodcock. The Thetford pines provide habitat and sources of food for the red squirrel and the forest floor supports reptiles such as the adder and common lizard.

The moist, warm microclimate provides perfect conditions for a multitude of fungi and provides shelter for deer. Many micro- and macro-moth species also feed on pine trees; the bordered white is associated with Corsican pine. Older mature stands of pine provide dead wood and nesting holes for birds and bats.

Management

Corsican pine is a light-demanding pioneer species and fast growing. As a Mediterranean tree, it grows best in areas of low summer rainfall and high summer temperatures on freely draining, sandy soils. It can tolerate heat and drought and some pollution but is vulnerable to frost. It cannot tolerate very wet or compacted soils and may grow on calcareous soils if they are well-drained.

Seeds begin to ripen in December and are usually collected in January and sown very late March/early April when the ground is warmer. No pre-treatment is required. The best seed sources are from registered stands in the UK or from Corsica.

The future role of Corsican pine in timber production is uncertain due to its vulnerability to red band needle blight; a notifiable disease (pictured). This species is currently not recommended for planting.

Corsican pine can also be susceptible to root and butt rot caused by Heterobasidion annosum, die back caused by Brunchorstia and Lophodermella needle disease.

Corsican pine leaves showing red band needle blight

Illustrations © Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
Photograph of Corsican pine © Debbie Cotton.
Photographs of Corsican canopy and needles
© Forestry Commission.