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Tree 6: Scots Pine

Latin name: Pinus sylvestris
Family: Pinaceae
Origin: Northern Europe
Height: up to 35m
Lifespan: up to 700 years
Autumn leaf loss: Evergreen
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Scots Pine was voted in 2014 as Scotland’s national tree. It is an evergreen conifer and is the only truly native timber-producing pine in the UK. Once the dominant tree in the Caledonian Forest that covered much of the Scottish Highlands, its presence is now much reduced both in Scotland and throughout Northern Europe. It remains, nonetheless, well represented in the UK and is referred to as a pioneer species due to its ability to regenerate and thrive in poor soils.

When planted commercially the Scots pine will be managed in rotations that vary from 50 to 120 years. Being one of the strongest softwoods available and also easy to work, the Scots pine is widely used in construction, joinery and other trades. In the past it was used for ships’ masts whilst today it is in demand for telegraph poles, fence posts, furniture, chipboard and paper pulp. The tree can also be tapped for resin to make turpentine, whilst its roots produce tar, its cones produce dyes & even its inner bark can be made into rope.

The very size of the tree and the ease with which it can be grown have encouraged the planting of them as windbreaks for isolated and exposed upland farms. Similarly, clusters of pines growing along old droveways provided travellers with shelter and waymarks in poor weather.

Widely regarded as one of the most attractive of the pines, particularly as it matures, the Scots pine can be identified by its orange, flaky bark on the upper trunk and branches, with the lower trunk growing big papery-surfaced mauve plates. Its shape tends to be spire-like in plantations whilst open-grown trees soon become picturesquely rounded. As it ages it tends to lose its lower branches, leaving a bare lower trunk whilst the orange-pink colour in the upper bark intensifies.