Scots Pine - Pinus sylvestris
- sometimes known as scotch pine
This is one of 3 (the others being yew and juniper) truly native species of pine in the British Isles, also found in the rest of Europe from Spain to Siberia, and was introduced into Southern Canada and the Northeastern USA. The preferred habitat is light sandy soil, full sun and not too wet conditions, away from salt laden winds.
The tree grows on average 70 feet high although it has been known to reach 120 feet. The trunk is long and straight with grey/reddish brown bark which forms in deeply etched fissures and scaly plates. It has pairs of blue-green needles, 1.5 -3.5 inches long and circular in cross-section and born on stout dark yellow twigs. The cones are 2 - 3 inches in length, either growing singly or in pairs, but not many are produced until the tree is at least 60 years old. It flowers in May and June, but the seeds are not fully ripe until the October of the next year, and are dispersed from December to March.
The wood of the Scots Pine is strong and lightweight and is used for railway sleepers, telegraph poles and general building and fencing work. Pitch, turpentine, resin and medicinal oil are all extracted from this tree. The pine cones can be used to make a honey-yellow dye for wool, by boiling for several hours with salt.
The ancient Druids used to burn a log of Scots Pine on the winter solstice to celebrate the passing of the seasons. Also at this time glades of these pines were decorated with shiny objects and stars to represent the Divine Light. This is thought to be the origin of the Yule log and the decoration of Christmas trees.
The gaelic name for the Scots Pine was Guibhas (pronounced goo-ass) and place names such as Dalguise, Kingussie and Goose Island may be derived from the presence of the tree rather than from the word 'goose' as is often thought.
There is a superstition that pine trees should not be felled during the waning of the moon if they were to be used for ship-building, because the wood would rot. It is now recognized that the moon does influence the flow of sap in many plants and trees, and it may be that the resin content varies accordingly, thus altering the durability of the wood.
Legend has it that the Scots Pine was used in the Highlands as a marker - both of property, boundaries and over the graves of warriors and chiefs. In the south it marked drove roads and meadows where drovers could rest with their herds for the night.
Throughout mythology the pine, as an evergreen, has been used to symbolise immortality.