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Pinus sylvestris

Pinus sylvestris

Taisha is the author of this entry. She writes:

Today, we have a photo of Pinus sylvestris, commonly known as Scots pine, showing the needles and male cones (microstrobili). The image is courtesy of Marianne (aka marcella 2/tovje@Flickr, and was shared via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. The Flickr pool has another image of the species in habit by Stephen Buchan (aka --Green Light Images--@Flickr). Thank you both for sharing!

Pinus sylvestris is the second-most widely distributed conifer in the world (exceeded only by Juniperus communis), with a native range spanning beyond the Arctic Circle to southern Spain, and from western Scotland to eastern Siberia. The species grows at elevations from sea level to 2400 meters (~8000 ft.).

The last major episode of widespread glaciation, about 10 000 years before present, occurred during the Pleistocene. During this time, many plant species survived in small isolated ice-free areas known as glacial refugia. For Scots pine, evidence so far suggests the species survived in four main refugia as well as an area south of glacial extent (the Russian Plains). The four refugia were: 1) the Iberian Peninsula, 2) the northern Apennine Peninsula, 3) south of the Carpathian and Sudeten Mountains, and 4) the Balkans. As the glaciers retreated, Pinus sylvestris recolonized Europe. However, it is still unclear which routes and specific refugial populations had the most prominent roles.

In a study by Prus-Glowacki, et al., some suggestions about the recolonization patterns of the Scots pine after the last glaciation are made. They propose that the Iberian and Apennine Peninsulas populations either did not at all, or only slightly contributed to recolonization. Furthermore, they state that the Balkan refugium contributed as a source area for Scots pine migration into central and western Europe, while those ancestral populations from eastern Europe and Siberia primarily contributed to the present gene pools in central Europe and Scotland. Lastly, the researchers note that the origin of the Scottish populations is unclear, as they form a distinctly separate group derived from more than one glacial refugium after the last glaciation (see: Prus-Glowacki, et al. (2012). Genetic variation of isolated and peripheral populations of Pinus sylvestris (L.) from glacial refugia. Flora-- Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants. 207(2):150-158).

In a previous BPotD entry from 2011 about Loch Maree, Scotland, Daniel mentions Pinus sylvestris and briefly touches on the biogeography of this species, with particular attention to its presence in the Loch Maree area.


The use of sylvestris for a specific epithet for a tree strikes me as overly self evident. Growing up in Ohio, this species was synonymous with a Christmas tree. Of course, after nearly 20 years of living in Oregon, my idea of a Christmas tree is now more along the lines of an Abies nobilis or Pseudotsuga menziesii.

The brief discussion of plant survival and post-glacial recolonization is interesting and worth a little more exploration on my own. The term glacial refugia reminds me of a very interesting article I read in a now defunct earth science magazine back in the 1990s on the algific talus slopes in the Iowa-Wisconsin border region. The article describes a number of species that were either in exclave ranges of species whose next closest range was well north, or were endemic to these habitats.

Discussion of some of the plant species from those areas may well make for an interesting series of BPOTD entries in the future.

What I find interesting, is the colour of the strobili, this clear, striking pure red. Is it typical of the species? These pines grow naturally in Poland (mostly on sands, in the centre of the country and at the seaside dunes, but elsewhere they are also popular) and I have always observed yellow strobili.

Abies nobilis is a synonym of A. procera.


Wow! What a bright red color for those strobili! I tend to think of Pine strobili as yellow, due to the pollen, and realize that the photographer must have caught these just before they opened to release the pollen.

This photo brought back lots of old memories:
I first learned about P. sylvestris when my dad took me to a 4-H club meeting as an 11 year old, so that I could learn how to grow Scots Pine seedlings. Austin Lentz, the NJ Forestry Extension Specialist, had created this 4-H Project as a way of facilitating the establishment of Christmas Tree Farms in NJ, at a time when everyone was selling Balsam fir Christmas trees imported from the wilds of Maine. He told us 4-Hers that we would be able to sell the two year old seedlings to a landowner for setting out to become Christmas trees. He gave each 4-Her a packet of about 1,000 seeds, sufficient for planting a 4 ft. X 4 ft. seed bed and instructions on how to grow the seedlings. He told us that the seeds came from Spain where that variety of Scots pine was known for having straighter trunks than other varieties. This would make the seedlings grow into better (more attractive) Christmas trees.

Taisha, thank you for the info about the history of the distribution of Scots pine. I had no idea it was widely distributed across Eurasia, nor that J. communis was the most widely distributed conifer in the world.

The red-brown (not yellow) pollen cones and dark green (not glaucous) needles indicate it is Mountain Pine Pinus mugo, not Scots Pine P. sylvestris.

PS to Ray - the photo was taken after the pollen was shed, the cones are open, not still closed. From the original on Flickr, the photo date is 11 June 2012; Mountain Pine sheds pollen in mid to late May. Compare unopened Mountain Pine pollen cones here.

I have often wondered why different conifers have different-coloured strobilii. Whitebark pine are ruby red, Lodgepole pine are yellow, Subalpine fir are a rich blue. When no insects need to be attracted, this is a puzzle.

I have also always wondered why the composition of resin is so different between coniferous species, in other words, why they smell different. Is it an effort on the tree to deflect a predator that is particular to that species?

Thanks for all the comments! Michael F, I'll be sure to find out more about the species in the photograph, and update the post accordingly!

@ chri - red / purple strobili tend to be found on species from cold, and particularly high altitude, habitats. The darkest of all (e.g. Pinus hartwegii, with black cones) tend to be at exceptionally high altitudes (Pinus hartwegii grows at up to 4,300m in Mexico). While not proven, it is likely that the anthocyanins responsible for the colour play a role in thermoregulation and UV light tolerance. Many species are polymorphic for the trait (including Pinus mugo, which can have either red or yellow pollen cones).

@ taisha.jm - thanks!

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