P. heldreichii is mainly represented in cultivation by the following variety, which is also commoner than typical P. heldreichii in the wild:
var. leucodermis (Ant.) Markgraf ex Fitschen P. leucodermis Ant.; P. laricio var. leucodermis (Ant.) Christ; P. nigra var. leucodermis (Ant.) Rehd. – A tree up to 90 ft high in the wild, but usually much smaller and sometimes shrubby; bark ash-grey, smooth, on old trees divided by narrow fissures into more or less rectangular plates; buds 5⁄8 in. long, sharply pointed, not resinous, with brown, fimbriate scales; stems pale brown at first with a glaucous bloom, whitish the second year, grey the third. Leaves in pairs, very rigid and erect, persisting five years, dark green, 2 to 3 in. long; leaf-sheaths 3⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. long. Cones at first deep blue, dull dark brown and evenly coloured when ripe, ovoid-conic, 2 to 3 in. long; lower scales pyramidal at the apex, umbo with an erect or backward-pointing mucro. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 190.
Native of the Dinaric Alps of Yugoslavia, extending into Albania (see further on distribution below); described in 1863 from a specimen collected by Maly in the mountains north of the Gulf of Kotor, in S. Dalmatia. It is a tree of high altitudes, recalling P. cembra in its ability to withstand harsh conditions, but nearly always found growing on limestone (rarely on serpentine rock). It was introduced to Kew in 1890 and has since become a fairly common tree in collections. There was a reintroduction in 1902, by Mrs Nicholl, who collected seed on Prenj Planina in Hercegovina (Elwes and Henry, Tr. Gt. Brit. & Irel., Vol. 2, p. 426).
Although often gnarled and stunted in the wild, the var. leucodermis makes in cultivation a very handsome specimen of dense, narrow habit. Among the largest examples are: Kew, from original introduction, 41 × 3 ft (1968); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, pl. c. 1915, 54 × 6 ft (1971), and several others; Pinetum of Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley, 54 × 31⁄4 ft (1969); Stratfield Saye, Hants, 62 × 6 ft (1968); Tyninghame, East Lothian, 47 × 63⁄4 ft (1967).
Typical P. heldreichii was described a year earlier than P. leucodermis, from a specimen collected by Heldreich on Mt Olympus in N. Greece. The distinguishing characters appear to be that in typical P. heldreichii the lower cone-scales are not pyramidal at the apex as in var. leucodermis, that the branchlets are brown in their second year, and that the leaves are more spreading, but the differences are scarcely of specific value. The geographical distribution of typical P. heldreichii is apparently not known for certain, but the type-locality is at the southern end of the area of the species. It also extends into S. Italy, where it occurs on some of the high mountains of Calabria and Lucania, e.g., on Mt Pollino, north of Castrovillari, but whether these trees would be referable to typical P. heldreichii or to the var. leucodermis it is impossible to say.
P. heldreichii is related to P. nigra, differing markedly in its bark, in the grey or glaucous young shoots, and in the uniform brown colouring of the cones. There are also differences in leaf-structure and in the chemical composition of the resin.