The Swiss mountain pine has two different forms- the tree form growing to heights of 10 to 20 metres, and the shrub form, 2 to 4 metres high, called the mountain dwarf pine. The Swiss mountain pine, as its name implies, grows mainly high up in the mountains near the tree line; it is also found in the foothills in peat-bogs. The tree form predominates in the western Alps, Vosges and Pyrenees, the shrub form is more abundant in the eastern Alps and Carpathians.

Its leaves greatly resemble those of the Scots pine but are arranged more densely on the twig. The tree form differs from the Scots pine in having grey-black, furrowed bark, which goes all the way up to the crown, and asymmetric cones with knoblike, red-brown scale tips. In the shrub form the cones are symmetrical, broadly opened, with red-brown scale tips.

The Swiss mountain pine is a sun-loving tree that thrives in poorer, shallower soils. Its chief importance is as protection against avalanches and soil erosion. The decumbant form is very popular as an ornamental tree.