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Pinus sylvestris

Pinus sylvestris
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Scientific name: Pinus sylvestris  Linnaeus 1753

Synonyms: Pinus binatofolio Gilib., Pinus borealis Salisb., Pinus cretacea Kalen., Pinus ericetorum Thore, Pinus erzeroomica Calvert ex Gordon, Pinus fominii Kondr., Pinus frieseana Wich., Pinus genevensis Carrière, Pinus genovensis Garsault, Pinus hagenaviensis K.Koch, Pinus krylovii Serg. & Kondr., Pinus lapponica (Hartm.) Mayr, Pinus montana Hoffm., Pinus mughus Jacq., Pinus resinosa Savi, Pinus rigensis Loudon, Pinus rubra Mill., Pinus scariosa Lodd. ex Loudon, Pinus tartarica Mill.

Common names: Scots pine, Scotch pine, European red pine, Baltic pine, Riga pine, Norway pine



Tree to 30(-40) m tall, shorter in arid regions or shrubby near the alpine tree line. Trunk to 1(-1.7) m tall, often forked or leaning. Bark bright reddish orange, smooth, and peeling in papery flakes on the upper trunk and branches, breaking up into gray, scaly, interrupted ridges separated by broad, reddish brown furrows on the lower trunk. Crown variably conical, through cylindrical, to nearly spherical, with contorted horizontal to upraised branches densely clothed with foliage only at the tips. Twigs greenish yellow to orange, hairless, slightly grooved between the bases of the scale leaves. Buds 5-8(-11) mm long, resinous. Needles in bundles of two (or three), each needle (0.5-)4-7(-12) cm long, somewhat flexible but straight, conspicuously twisted, very broad for their height (about two to three times as broad as high), prickly, lasting 2-3(-9) years, usually bluish green. Individual needles with numerous, conspicuous lines of stomates on both faces, a two-stranded midvein, and (2-)6-10(-22) resin canals touching the needle surface all around the periphery. Sheath 9-12 mm long, weathering to 3-6 mm and persisting and falling with the bundle. Pollen cones (2-)3-6(-8) mm long, pink or yellow. Seed cones (1.5-)3-5(-7) cm long, egg- to broadly egg-shaped, with 70-100 seed scales, green before maturity, ripening shiny or dull yellowish brown to reddish brown to grayish brown, opening widely to release the seeds and then falling with the slender, short, curved stalk (2-)4-12(-15) mm long. Seed scales variably paddle-shaped, the exposed face unequally diamond-shaped, flat to conically protruding, especially near the base on the side away from the twig, crossed by a distinct ridge topped by a flat, small umbo bearing an inconspicuous, blunt prickle. Seed body (2-)3-5 mm long, the easily detachable wing another 10-15 mm longer.

Discontinuously distributed all the way across Eurasia from near the Atlantic Ocean in Norway, Scotland, and northwestern Spain to the Pacific (Sea of Okhotsk) in Russia, with its broadest latitudinal distribution in western Eurasia from about 37°N in Spain and Turkey to  above 70°N in Norway but mostly confined to a broken band between about 50°N and 65°N across central and eastern Eurasia to about 142°E. Forming immense, pure forests (hence the scientific name, Latin for “of forests”), mixed with birches and other boreal trees, or confined to isolated groves in the steppes south of the boreal forest in Siberia, on substrates ranging from dry sands to bogs; 0-2,100(-2,600) m, generally at lower elevations in the north and higher elevations in the south.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

This is the most widespread of all pines, occupying many millions of hectares across Eurasia. Its tremendous distribution and large population size leads to an assessment of Least Concern. More than 50 botanical varieties have been described for this species. Farjon (2010), only recognizes three of these. The typical variety is very widespread, from Scotland to Russian Far East. Pinus sylvestris var. hamata Steven is restricted to the Ukraine, Caucasus and Turkey. Pinus sylvestris var. mongolica Litv. is found in northern China, Mongolia and around Lake Baikal in Siberia. None of the varieties are considered to be threatened and are hence not assessed separately. Across its enormous range Pinus sylvestris grows naturally in a variety of habitats, the common denominator of which is deficiency of nutrients in the soil. Thus on the Atlantic seaboard with high levels of precipitation it occupies ancient igneous or metamorphic rocks with little or no soil in Scotland and Norway up to 70º N, while south of the Baltic Sea it grows on podzolized glacial sands left after the Ice Age. In the central Alps it is restricted to the drier slopes and valleys below other conifers like Larix and Picea, while in the Caucasus it ascends to 2,600 m on rocky outcrops and scree. In much of Siberia it occupies the drier sites, but in Scandinavia and NE Europe it often borders acidic peat bogs. In the steppes of Russia and Mongolia it occurs only along stream courses. Pinus sylvestris most commonly forms open pine forests and woodlands but in many areas it is associated with conifers like Picea, Larix, Juniperus and with broad-leaved trees, especially Betula spp. and Populus tremula. In old growth stands there is often a well-developed ground cover of Vaccinium spp. or Empetrum nigrum in Atlantic regions, and such pine forests are rich in mycorrhizal fungi. Pinus sylvestris forests in countries such as the United Kingdom (Scotland) have historically been heavily exploited and in some areas have been considerably reduced. Throughout most of its range, however, logging and forest conversion for agriculture or for plantations have had a much less of an impact. Scots pine is an important timber tree, but most of the production goes to the paper industry. In the past it was more often put to use as mining props and for interior construction; such uses are still common in E Europe. Most of the 'pine' used for furniture in W Europe is actually spruce (Picea abies), which has a smoother grain and is less resinous, but often has more and darker 'knots', which are the discarded lower branches on the trunks of densely planted trees. Other uses of Scots Pine wood are (or were) street paving blocks, railway sleepers, fencing, crates, pallets, boxes, laminated wood, particleboard, fibreboard, and various wood-based materials. In Russia and Scandinavia resin is extracted by 'destructive distillation' from the stumps and roots of felled trees to produce 'Stockholm tar' which is used as a wood preservative. In much of western Europe it is a widely planted forestry tree for timber; it was introduced in the USA for similar purposes and for growing as Christmas trees. Scots Pine is or was also used to stabilize dunes, but not those close to the sea as it is not very resistant to salt-laden winds. In Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark such plantations have led to massive spontaneous spread of pines onto heathland and the last remaining inland dune areas, and while the old plantations have in many places matured to mixed woodland now managed as 'multiple use' or even nature reserves, the invasiveness onto Calluna heathland is seen as a menace to biodiversity and an ancient semi-natural landscape. In horticulture a large number of cultivars is known, including dwarf forms from witches brooms; the species is being planted as an amenity tree in many countries. Such a widespread and locally dominant species occurs in many protected areas across its range.



  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.

Product CodePINY54T630

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