What is a Scotch Pine Tree? - Home Stratosphere

What is a Scotch Pine Tree?

Expand your knowledge on scotch pine trees and learn more about its appearance, how they reproduce, where they usually grow and how they are used today.

This is a full view of a scotch pine tree growing on a field.

Pinus Sylvestris

The scotch pine was previously the scots fir or the European redwood before the 18th century. Today, the tree is known as the scotch pine to those in the United States, and as the scots pine tree to those in the United Kingdom. Pollen records show that this pine species were present in England more than 9000 years ago!

Part of the pine family (pinaceae), the scotch pine is a coniferous evergreen tree that is native to Eurasia and certain pockets in North America. They are mostly a mountainous tree that prefers to grow at high altitudes, and it is the only pine species that is native to Northern Europe.

The scotch pine has a lifespan of 150-300 years, though the oldest one found on record lives in Lapland, north Finland, and is a baffling 760 years old. This specimen must be a very proud member of the old-growth forest.

These coarser trees either grow in pure stands, or mixed hardwood forests with Norway spruce, the common juniper, the silver birch, European rowan, and Eurasian aspen.

If you’re curious about other types of pine trees, head on over to What is a Pitch Pine Tree? and What is a Red Pine Tree? We also have an extensive list of 101 Types of Trees if those piqued your interest, and you’d like to learn more!

Related: Wollemi Pine Tree | Bristlecone Pine Tree | Ponderos Pine Tree | Pitch Pine Tree | Red Pine Tree | Eastern White Pine Tree

What does a Scotch Pine Tree Look Like?

Root System

Pine trees will usually have 2 types of root systems. Pines will often grow in very low nutrient soils with harsh climate conditions, and so they develop roots to help them survive.

They will develop wide-spreading lateral roots to ensure that they stay firmly in the earth during wind storms. They also have taproots that grow very deep in the soil. These taproots are necessary for the tree to access water reserves in the deep earth during drought months.

Dimensions

Scotch pine trees are a tall variety of pine trees, and will usually grow to be over 35 meters tall, though there have been exceptional trees to grow to be over 45 meters tall. The largest on record was found in Estonia. It was 210 years old and was 46.6 meters tall.

Scotch pines have a relatively thin trunk diameter compared to their height. The trunk diameter will usually linger around just over a meter wide, though exceptional trees will reach almost 2 meters around.

This is a close look at a bunch of scotch pine trees.

Growth Pattern

Scotch pines have a very robust, conical shape. Their branches grow horizontally and start quite low to the ground. Depending on the age of the tree, their crown will be very large and filled out on a young tree, and a mature tree will have large gaps where branches have been self pruned.

Mature trees tend to self prune their own branches by a means of preservation. Is it a common habit for older trees to have long stretches of the bare trunk, that is topped by a flat or rounded mass of foliage?

Bark

This is a look at the barks of various scotch pine trees.

The bark of a scotch pine tree is different depending on where you are looking along the trunk. They have shaggy orange bark on the middle section of the tree and are formed in thick scales. On the upper trunk and upper branches of the tree, it is much more thin scales and is flaky, and showy orange bark.

Foliage

The shoots of the scotch pine tree are light brown and have a spirally arranged scale pattern. On the shoots are where the clusters of needles grow. Depending on the species of pine, they will have a different number of needles in a cluster of green foliage.

For the scotch pine, needles grow in fascicles of 2. Needles themselves are glaucous and a blue/green color. They will become darker green in the wintertime. The basal sheath of a needle is a light gray color.

This is a close look at the leaves and branches of a scotch pine tree.

Needles are usually around 1-2 inches long, and their leaf persistence is quite impressive. In warm climates, needles will stay on a tree for up to 4 years. In cold climates, they can stay on a tree for up to a decade!

When it comes to young, vigorously growing trees, they can sometimes have scotch pine needles that are twice as long, as experience over double the amount of needles per cluster. Seedlings that are just 1 year old can start to bear new growth. These are usually long and flat, and there will only be 1 needle in a cluster.

How do Scotch Pine Trees Reproduce?

This is a close look at the pine cone of a scotch pine tree.

Seed Cones

Seed cones, or female cones, are either green or red when they first emerge. They will eventually pale into brown when they reach maturity. They are an ovoid-conic shape that meets into a sharp point. Cones are covered if flat, pyramid-shaped scales with a small prickle at the tip.

Pollen Cones

Pollen cones, or male cones, can be either pale yellow or pink when they first emerge. They will also eventually pale into a brown color after about 2 years when they reach full maturity. They are an ovoid-conic shape that meets into a sharp point. A mature cone is covered if flat, pyramid-shaped scales with a small prickle at the tip.

Pollination

Pine trees are monoecious, meaning that they possess both male cones and female cones on the same tree. However, they very rarely engage in self-pollination, in order to keep their gene pool diverse and robust.

Pollen cones will emerge before female cones do, and male cones occur on the lower branches of the tree and female cones on the upper branches of the tree. Pollen is released from the male cones in mid to late spring and enters the seed cone of another tree.

Pollen will remain in the seed pine cone as it matures, and the scale will eventually open up in spring to release the seeds, about 22-24 months after the original time of pollination. Seeds are black with a pale brown wing to help with dispersal.

What are Some Other Varieties of Scotch Pine Trees?

This stunning evergreen tree has 4 accepted varieties, though there are very few differences between them. The main differing characteristics lie in their growing regions, slight differences in foliage, and differences in the resin composition.

Pinus Sylvestris var. Sylvestris 

This is a nature park with scotch pine trees on the sides of the wooden walkway.

This subject of this article, this variety of pine accounts for the bulk of its range. They occur from Scotland to Spain, to central Siberia.

Pinus Sylvestris var. Hamata 

This is a full view of the scotch pine tree surrounded by shrubs.

This variety of pine has glaucous (powdery bloom) foliage all year long that does not dull in the winter. Their cones have slightly pointier scales, and they occur from the Balkans to northern Turkey, to Crimea and Caucasus.

Pinus Sylvestris var. Mongolica 

This is a close look at a forest of scotch pine trees.

This variety of pine has foliage that is a more dull green color that is commonly shorter. They occur in Mongolia, southern Siberia, and northwestern China.

Pinus Sylvestris var. Nevadensis 

This variety of pine has cones with thicker scales than others. They occur in Sierra in Nevada, and southern Spain.

Pinus Sylvestris var. Cretacea 

This variety of pine has shorter needles, and they occur at the border regions between Ukraine and Russia.

Where do Scotch Pine Trees Grow?

Scotch pine trees are the only species of pine that is native to Europe. They occur all around western Europe towards eastern Siberia, and through the Caucasus mountains, towards Anatolia.

In the southern part of their range, they will grow at elevations of sea level up to 1000 meters in altitude. In the northern part of their range, they will grow from 1200 meters to 2600 meters in altitude and are considered a mountainous tree.

Scotch pine trees exist in either pure stands or in mixed stands with the following tree species:

  • common juniper
  • Eurasian aspen
  • Eurasian rowan
  • European black pine
  • Norway spruce
  • Macedonian pine
  • mountain pine
  • Siberian pine
  • silver birch
  • Swiss pine

What are the Growing Conditions of Scotch Pine Trees?

This is a close look at a forest of trees during sunrise.

Soil

Pine trees are able to persist in a great variety of soil types. They can grow in low nutrient soils, poor sandy soils, in rocky outcrops, as well as in heavily moist soils like peat bogs and swamps. One strange aspect of their soil requirements is that they cannot be nutrient-rich. They will beat out my other tree species with broad leaves in these conditions.

Sun Exposure

Like all other pine species and most evergreen species, the scotch pine is a sun-loving tree. Though they have many diverse habits, most evergreen trees will not occur in shady areas, as most of them are completely shade intolerant.

Water Level

Pine trees are able to tolerate any level of moisture, as long as it isn’t completely flooding or completely draught. They prefer average moisture levels. They come equipped with both deep taproots and lateral shallow roots that enable them to exist in a moisture-conserving landscape.

What are the Damaging Agents to Scotch Pines?

This is a close look at a damaged bark of a scotch pine tree.

For scotch pines that occur in North America, they tend to be far more vulnerable to certain things because they are a foreign species. They are actually considered as being an invasive species in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, though they do not prosper in these locations.

They are not well adapted to the soil differences and the climate differences from Europe to North America, and this makes them more susceptible to pests and diseases. In these conditions, they tend to grow in a gnarled and haphazard manner.

Scotch pines are also very vulnerable to pinewood Nematoda (bursaphelenchus xylophilus) which causes pine wilt diseases. Pine wilt disease is a fungal infection that attacks the vascular system of the tree, which blocks its ability to transport water and nutrients. Once a tree is infected, it will be dead within a few weeks.

How are Scotch Pine Trees Used?

Wood

A close look at a set of light brown lumber.

Scotch pine wood is pale brown to pale red-brown, has a dry density, and has an open porous texture. The wood is used widely for pulpwood and for sawn timber products. It is considered as softwood, but it is one of the strongest softwoods available.

Pine fibers are commonly used to make “vegetable flannel”, which is a textile similar to hemp. Scotch pine fibers are used because of the tight and soft texture.

Scotch pines have also been used to source resin and turpentine for many years. Additionally, scotch pine planks were used in the coal mining regions of Flanders, Belgium. These planks were used to fortify tunnels. They were preferred because they had a noticeable crack when they were weakened, notifying that they should be replaced. These planks result in far fewer accidents because of that lucky feature.

Forestry

This is a look at the tall treetops of scotch pine trees from the vantage of the ground.

The scotch pine tree is a very important tree in the forestry industry because its seedlings are very easy to manage; they can be planted, transplanted, sown, or simply by natural regeneration. Commercial plantations will usually have rotations of scotch pines every 50 to 120 years.

There is a significant winter interest in this tree because it stays beautiful all year round, is incredibly resilient, and can protect other plant species from the wind. Planting a scotch pine is a wise decision on a private landscape or a commercial landscape.

Ornamental

This is a close look at a bunch of christmas trees on display.

The scotch pine was the first choice of tree in the 1950s-1980s for the perfect Christmas tree! However, once balsam firs and Fraser firs became more popular, the scotch pine was beaten out in popularity.

Since these trees are also so cold hardy and are very resistant to strong winds, they are often planted on the edges of gardens, parks, and large properties as a windbreak tree to help shelter more vulnerable plants and trees from harsh winds.

Wildlife

This is a close look at a dove perched on a scotch pine tree.

Scotch pines provide very valuable shelter and habitats for small mammals and bird species throughout the long winter, and they provide perching sites for birds all throughout the year.

The branches of young trees are also browsed upon by white-tailed deer, and porcupines will eat the bark of the tree as well.

FAQs

How should you prune a scotch pine tree?

Many species of pine trees are actually self-pruning, meaning that they will shed branches and foliage that are either sick or take too much energy to grow. Trees will have long stretches of the bare trunk with branch scars before the canopy resumes its growth.

For this reason, scotch pine trees really needn’t be pruned by humans. That would mainly be done to the preference of the landowner. It is best to reserve pruning for branches that are sick or are growing in an awkward direction.

How fast do scotch pine trees grow?

Scotch pine trees grow at a slow to medium growth rate, and will usually grow to be between 12 and 24 inches per year if they have proper growing conditions. If they do not have ideal growing conditions, they will grow far slower.

How long do scotch pine trees live?

Scotch pine trees have a rather long life expectancy and will live to be an average of 150-300 years old. However, the oldest scotch pine ever found on record lived in Lapland, northern Finland, and was 760 years old! Either way, these trees are part of the proud old-growth community.

How tall do scotch pine trees get?

Scotch pines are one of the pine species that grow to be taller than others. They will usually be between 30 and 35 meters tall, though there are some exceptional trees that can grow to be over 45 meters tall.

How do you identify a scotch pine tree?

The easiest way to identify pine trees is by their needles. Different species of pines will have a different number of needles per cluster. The scotch pine will only grow 2 needles in a cluster. Additionally, scotch pines tend to have bright red/orange/brown inner bark that is visible through their scales.

Do scotch pine trees have needles?

Scotch pine trees are evergreen conifers. Coniferous trees possess cones and needles instead of flowers and leaves. They are evergreen as well, meaning that these needles will not shed from the tree seasonally. The needles tend to stay on a scotch pine for up to 4 years in warmer climates, and up to 10 years in colder climates.

Is scotch pine a hardwood?

Scotch pine is one of the strongest softwoods available on the market. It is so strong, that it should be considered as being a hardwood.

Where are scotch pine trees native to?

The scotch pine tree is native to Eurasia, spanning from Europe to Siberia, and through the Caucasus mountains to Anatolia. There are plantations in New Zealand and North America, though they tend to not perform as well in these regions.

Are scotch pine trees used as Christmas trees?

Before the introduction of balsam firs and fraser firs to the commercial Christmas tree industry, the scotch pine was one of the top choices as a Christmas tree because of its attractive smell, and because the needles stayed on the tree well after when it was chopped down. However, it was soon discovered that balsam fir needles could stay on the tree for months as opposed to weeks, and so it grew in popularity.

What does scotch pine smell like?

Scotch pine smells like the classic pine tree smell. This is because of the high resin content in the tree. Resin is present in the bark, inner bark, needles, and twigs of the tree.

Do scotch pine trees shed their needles?

Scotch pine trees are coniferous evergreens. This means that they have needles and cones instead of flowers and leaves, and they do not seasonally shed their foliage. A scotch pine will shed its needles if it experiences a drastic environmental change. Otherwise, needles will stay on a tree for up to 4 years in warmer climates, and up to 10 years in colder climates.

How long does a scotch pine Christmas tree last?

Scotch pines are a more reasonably priced Christmas tree, but they don’t keep their needles for very long after the tree has been cut down. The needles will only stay on for about 3 weeks, whereas the balsam fir can hold its needles for months after it has been cut down. Seeing as there are some folks who like to keep their Christmas tree up from November until sometimes even February, the balsam fir is an obviously better choice.

How deep do scotch pine tree roots grow?

Pine trees will usually have 2 types of root systems. Pines will often grow in very low nutrient soils with harsh climate conditions, and so they develop roots to help them survive in poor soil.

They will develop wide-spreading lateral roots to ensure that they stay firmly in the earth during wind storms. They also have taproots that grow very deep in the soil. These taproots are necessary for the tree to access water reserves in the deep earth during drought months.

Is scotch pinewood expensive?

As long as the scotch pine is growing within its natural growing range, scotch pine wood isn’t too expensive. When the buyer does not exist in the natural growth, the price of the wood will be more moderate than the cheap side of pricing.

How far should a pine tree be from a house?

Pine trees do not perform very well in urban areas. They are intolerant to road salt, and to urban pollution. Pine trees will experience much more prosperous growth if they have the wide-open spaces of the countryside or large parks that are away from city streets.

If one lives in the country and would like to plant a scotch pine close to their home, it is best to keep them at least 6 meters away from the house. This is because they have very shallow and wide-spreading lateral roots that can potentially interfere with the infrastructure of a property. It is also in the best interest of the health of the tree.

Do pine trees need full sun?

Pine trees require full sun in order to grow properly. This is common for most kinds of evergreen coniferous trees. Because they don’t have the opportunity to go dormant in the winter months as deciduous trees do, they need to be able to photosynthesize all year long, and therefore require full sun to keep them going!

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