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Scots pine - pinus sylvestris

MATURE SCOTS PINE - PINUS SYLVESTRIS THETFORD FDThe Scots Pine is our only native conifer to be grown commercially for timber. This tree has a  large, long,  conical trunk which spreads into a broad domed crown (maybe better indicating on the picture). The heavy and short branches grow outwards from the trunk.  The shape is very distinct where the growth is slower; usually at higher altitudes or on poorer soils.  The Scots Pine can then take on a squashed and weather beaten look.

Age and size

It can grow up to 36 metres tall and 1.5 metres around the trunk. Some are over 300 years old.


Young trees have grey / green bark.  This turns orange or reddish and develops fissures as tree get older.  The colour is very noticeable at the top.

scots pine needlesLeaves
Are long, thin blue / green needles that grow in pairs.

Cones are egg shaped with a point. They have woody scales that protect  seeds inside.

Winged seeds are released as cone scales open.  Connected spheres of pollen from male flowers fertilise female flowers.  You can often find heaps of pollen in hollows on the ground.  


Fertilised flowers form green cones.
The winged seeds inside  takes 18 months or 3 years to ripen. Autumn
Cones turn brown.  

Where and how does the Scots Pine grow?

Roots of the Scots Pine can develop as deep taproots or as a shallow root system.  This means it is very adaptable and can thrive in poor dry soils and at higher elevations. These qualities and the fact that it is also a good timber tree resulted in big plantations in the drier south-eastern parts of England e.g. Thetford Forest and the New Forest. It is a popular tree for planting on open and poor industrial sites because it can survive on poor soils.

Wildlife and the Scots Pine

The Scots Pine is excellent for wildlife. Lichens and insects grow around and in the cracks on the trunk.  You may find Stump lichen, the Narrow headed ant and  the Scottish wood ant in some of our native pine woods.

Birds such as the Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Crested tit and Crossbill can feed well around a Scots Pine.  In Scotland the Wryneck and Capercaille can be found living in some pinewoods.  

The level branches make good nesting places for birds of prey such as the Golden Eagle, Osprey and Goshawk.
Red Squirrels are particularly fond of the cones and seeds of the Scots Pine.


The timber is known as “redwood” or “red deal”. It is easy to work with and is a reasonably strong timber with a light weight. When treated with preservatives it is durable outside. The greatest appeal is the finish of the wood which is an attractive yellow / red colour.

Uses of the wood today

It is used in many parts of the home including roof timbers, stairs, doorways and skirting.   It looks attractive and is popular  for making furniture. Also telegraph poles, fences and paper pulp.  It makes good firewood with a nice smell.  It is still used in some parts of the country for pit props in mines.
Old uses - This is a good tree for  being in contact with water. So in the past it was used to make ships, ship masts and water wheels. The resin from the bark was used to make tar and turpentine. Another product was charcoal.

Last updated: 12th January 2016

What's of interest

Scots Pine
The Scots Pine formed large parts of forests in Great Britain, particularly in the North of England and in Scotland, until 8000 years ago. The oldest known Scots Pine blew down at Inveraray in 1951 and was thought to be over 330 years old. Scots Pine form the basis of the native pinewoods of Scotland. These are extremely important for national and international wildlife conservation. Only remnants of the original forests exist as many were burnt for fuel, cleared for farming or overgrazed by sheep and deer. Today a long term project is underway working to protect and restore these ancient remnants of a once huge forest e.g. Glen Affric, N. Scotland

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