Pine, Scots (Pinus sylvestris)

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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.

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.

In 2014, a consultation to choose a national tree for Scotland found that the Scots pine was the clear favourite, with more than 52% of all responses opting for the tree. The decision has been widely seen as important recognition for the country’s trees and woodland which face increasing threats from climate change, pests and diseases.

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. 

Threats

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.

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