A modern reference to temperate woody plants, including updated content from this site and much new material, can be found at Trees and Shrubs Online.

Pinus sylvestris L.

Scots Pine

Modern name

Pinus sylvestris L.


Pinus rubra Mill.

A tree rarely more than 100 to 120 ft in height, with a trunk 3 ft, sometimes 5 ft in thickness. Its crown varies in shape according to the density of the stand, the age of the trees, and the race to which they belong. The bark usually has a reddish tinge, especially in the crown, where it is thin and flaky; on the trunk it may be cracked into large, fairly smooth plates; or ridged, with anastomosing furrows; or with small, loose, concave plates. Young stems glabrous, green; buds short-pointed, brown, usually more or less resinous. Leaves in pairs, grey-green, varying in length from 112 to 4 in. according to the vigour of the tree and the race to which it belongs; leaf-sheath 14 to 38 in. long, persistent. Cones conical to ovoid, usually in some shade of brown, 1 to 212 in. long; scales rhomboidal at the apex, transversely keeled, flattish or sometimes raised, especially on the outward-facing side. Seeds winged, shed in spring.

P. sylvestris has its main distribution in northern Eurasia, from Scotland through Scandinavia and the Baltic region to the Russian Far East, and in its north-south range from beyond the Arctic Circle to the borders of the steppe. In Central and Western Europe it was widespread in some phases of the post­glacial epoch, but it is now confined to areas and habitats where for one reason or another it can withstand the competition of deciduous forests or of the common spruce. It is not now a native of the British Isles outside Scotland, though it was still to be found in northern England a few centuries ago, and some authorites hold that the Scots pine of the heathlands of southern England may descend partly from trees which have persisted there since earlier post-glacial times. North of the Mediterranean and in the Near East it ranges from Spain and the Pyrenees to the Caucasus, but its distribution is patchy and it is quite absent from peninsular Italy.

For gardens there is scarcely any tree more picturesque than an old Scots pine, or with greater beauty of trunk, especially when lit by the low rays of the winter sun. The poet Wordsworth preferred the Highland pine of Scotland ‘to all other trees except the Oak, taking into consideration its beauty in winter, and by moonlight, and in the evening’ (Letter to the nurseryman James Grigor written from Rydall Mount, December 7, 1844).

Some notable specimens of Scots pine are: Kilkerran, Ayrs., pl. 1757, 102 × 1314 ft (1970); Keir House, Perths., pl. 1827, 93 × 1134 ft (1970); Kidbrooke Park, Sussex, 105 × 712 ft, with clear bole of 65 ft (1968); Compton Chamberlayne, Wilts, 88 × 1414 ft (1960); Forde Abbey, Dorset, 60 × 1334 ft (1959); Oakley Park, Shrops., 113 × 1012 ft (1971); Hewell Grange, Worcs., 105 × 1014 ft (1963); Tetton House, Som., 82 × 1114 ft (1959).

The Scots pine provides one of the most important and widely used of timbers. Much of it is imported from N. Europe as yellow deal or redwood, and in earlier times as Riga fir, Danzig fir, etc., according to the port from which it was shipped. In this country the Scots pine is still an important plantation tree, despite the competition from faster-growing species such as Corsican pine and P. contorta. It is particularly suited to poor soils in the eastern parts of the country, where the climate is drier and the summers warmer than average. Planting by the Forestry Commission is at the rate of 2,000 acres annually, and the total area devoted to it in 1965 was 623,000 acres.

P. sylvestris is a very variable species, as might be expected, considering the diversity of the climates, soils, and altitudes in which it occurs. Many local varieties have been distinguished, but the characters of the wild trees may be to a large extent determined by the local environment, and are lost or modified when the variety is grown away from its native habitat. A few of the local races are mentioned below, together with the more important garden varieties:

var. argentea Steven – Foliage of a distinctly more glaucous or silvery hue. Described from the Caucasus. The f. argentea of Beissner is of general application to trees of this character, which are not confined to the Caucasus and may appear among seedlings.

cv. ‘Aurea’. – Leaves yellowish green at first, becoming golden in winter, eventually green. In commerce in Britain by 1875. Examples are: Westonbirt, Glos., 39 × 312 ft (1970); Hergest Croft, Heref., 25 × 312 ft (1963); Smeaton, East Lothian, 43 × 314 ft (1966); Castlewellan, Co. Down, 47 × 514 ft (1970). Award of Merit 1964, when shown by Robert Strauss, Stonehurst, Sussex, where there is an example about 32 ft high (1964).

cv. ‘Beuvronensis’. – A dense, very slow-growing bush with blue-green leaves about 112 in. long. It is believed to have originated as a witch’s broom and was put into commerce by Transon Frères of Orleans, before 1891. According to Hornibrook an old specimen at Wakehurst Place in Sussex was slightly over 3 ft high and about 5 ft wide in 1932.

var. engadinensis Heer – A small tree up to about 30 ft; bark thin, reddish; buds resinous. Leaves about 112 in. long, stiff, persisting five years. Cones brown, glossy; scales hooked at the apex with a thickened umbo surrounded at the base by a dark ring, said to be caused by a fungus. It was described from the Engadine but occurs elsewhere in the central valleys of the Alps and in the Dolomites. It ascends to 6,000 ft. It is thought by some to be a hybrid between P. sylvestris and either P. mugo or P. uncinata. But the var. lapponica Fries, from northern Scandinavia, is very similar and cannot be a hybrid. Coming from a region where the summer days are very long it is said to grow poorly when introduced to more southern latitudes.

f. fastigiata (Carr.) Beissn. – Of narrow habit, with ascending branches. It occurs occasionally in the wild. There is an example 21 ft high in the Royal Horticultural Society Garden, Wisley, Surrey (1968).

var. haguenensis Loud. Haguenau Pine. – This race, which occurs in Alsace near the Rhine, has no distinctive botanical characters, but is one of the best known provenances of the Scots pine. In France it was widely used in the last century for reafforestation and was also sold in quantity by some nurserymen in this country. In 1838, Lawson and Son of Edinburgh were offering one-year seedlings from Haguenau seed at 2 shillings a thousand.

var. rigensis Loud. Riga Pine. – A native of the Baltic region, distinguished by its narrow crown and its tall straight stems, which provided the masts for many warships in the days of sail. It proved to be the finest form of P. sylvestris in the trial plots planted by Ph.-A. de Vilmorin at Les Barres early in the 19th century, but is not generally considered to be of any value outside its native habitat. It is interesting that some of the seed used by de Vilmorin came not from the Baltic but from Brittany, where the Riga pine had been planted in the 18 th century, presumably to supply the naval shipyards with timber.

var. scotica Beissn. P. scotica Willd. ex Endl. Highland Pine. – The native pine of Scotland once formed extensive forests, now reduced to a few remnants. The best known of the surviving natural stands are on Loch Maree; around Loch Morlich in the Glenmore forest; and the Black Wood on the south side of Loch Rannoch. The distinctive characters of the Highland pine are said to be the grey-green to glaucous, shorter-than-average leaves and the tendency of the cone-scales to become pyramidal in the upper part of the cone, but it is doubtful whether it would be possible to identify a Highland pine with any certainty when it is grown outside its native habitat. It is sometimes erroneously stated that Philip Miller gave the Highland pine botanical status as P. rubra. This name, as is clear from his account, was given to the species as a whole.

The standard work on the Highland pine is: H. M. Steven and A. Carlisle, The Native Pinewoods of Scotland (1959).

cv. ‘Watereri’ (‘Pumila’). – A slow-growing, but not dwarf, variety of dense habit, with glaucous leaves about 112 in. long. It was put into commerce by the Knap Hill Nursery, near Woking, Surrey, under the name P. sylvestris pumila or the Dwarf Scotch, and first appeared in their advertisements in 1855. The original plant is believed to have been found on Horsell Common, some two miles from the nursery, by Anthony Waterer, who was joint owner of the firm at that time. Later in the century it was propagated by the Dutch nurseries and, until recently, was more appreciated in Holland and Germany than in the land of its origin. It was known on the Continent by the epithet watereri or waterana, and the former is now accepted as the correct cultivar name, despite the fact that ‘Pumila’ has priority. The original plant, beautifully situated and in perfect health, still grows in the Knap Hill Nursery, and is about 25 ft high and as much in width.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Mountfield Court, near Hastings, Sussex, 82 × 1434 ft (1983); Honey-hanger, near Haslemere, Surrey, 104 × 834 ft (1980); Oakley Park, Shrops., 113 × 1012 ft (1971) and another 118 × 9 ft (1978); Hartrow Manor, Som., 73 × 17 ft (1978); Munches, Kirkc., 95 × 14 ft and 85 × 13 ft (1985); Shambellie Wood, nr Dalbeattie, Kirkc., pl. 1780, 118 × 814 ft and 92 × 10 ft (1984); Bargany, Ayrs., Lawn, 118 × 1414 ft (1985); Kilkerran, Ayrs., pl. 1757, 102 × 1314 ft (1970); Rossdhu, Dunbart., Garden, 80 × 1434 ft and, Drive, 75 × 1414 ft (1985); Keir House, Perths., pl. 1827, 85 × 1214 ft (1985); Curraghmore, Co. Waterford, Eire, 121 × 1334 ft (1975).

cv. ‘Aurea’ - specimens: Hergest Croft, Heref., 40 × 434 ft (1985); Smeaton, E. Lothian, Castlewellan, Co. Down.

Two new golden-leaved cultivars of Scots pine are ‘Gold Coin’ and ‘Gold Medal’.

† cv. ‘Doone Valley’. – An upright shrub of irregular habit, found by J. W. Archer and R. S. Corley as a witch’s broom on a tree growing near Frensham Ponds, Surrey. Grafts were raised at Doone Valley, Mr Archer’s house at that time, and the clone distributed commercially by Messrs Hillier (Welch, Man. Dw. Conif., p. 324). It is portrayed in Bull. Alp. Gard. Soc., Vol. 49, p. 133 (1981).

† cv. ‘Lodge Hill’. – Slow-growing and of dense, irregular habit. Put into commerce by Don Hatch, Chantry Nursery, Honiton, Devon.

† cv. ‘Moseri’. – A shrub of rounded habit, to 3 or 4 ft high and wide; needles light green, yellowish in winter. Raised in Moser’s nursery, Versailles, before 1890. There are old specimens in the University Botanic Garden, Cambridge and at Nymans in Sussex.



Other species in the genus