The magnificent Scots pine can be found across the Eurasian northern hemisphere, from Ireland to Eastern Russia and as far south as Northern Spain. In great swathes of forest lands or standing alone on a loch side, it stands out for its deep green clouds of feathery needle laden branches and reddy brown scaly trunk. By nature gregarious, it supports below ground mycorrhizal fungi with which it shares sugars in return for scarce minerals and nitrogen in often impoverished soils. It was an early, genetically diverse coloniser of northern lands after the last Ice Age, able to thrive on and then stabilise glacial soils.
Wind pollinated and monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same tree, it wafts clouds of yellow pollen in spring, fertilising the well-known female cones of downwind trees, which ripen and open during autumn. The small seeds inside feed red squirrels and pine martens as well as a number of bird species.
Scots pines may grow to almost 150 feet tall (45 metres), especially when nursed by surrounding trees; singly, they tend to grow with a spreading canopy, but they can take on diverse forms depending on altitude and exposure. They are cold tolerant and can thrive at up to 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level. Individual trees may live up to 700 years, and the slowest growing specimens in higher latitudes yield extremely fine, strong and workable timber with a pinkish tinge. As a fuel the wood burns well, having a high resin content. Mature natural woods, such as the remnants of the once extensive Caledonian forest, support a wide range of insects and birds, the deeply fissured trunks of older trees providing all sorts of niches and shelter. Specialised ground flora such as the lesser twayblade orchid thrive in these precious reserves.
Scots pines are widely cultivated for their timber, with seeds for replanting selected from straight, single trunk stock. They grow fast, up to half a metre or 18 inches a year when young, and make effective windbreaks for farms and young plantations. The wood was once widely ‘distilled’ – burned in a very limited air supply – to make tar used in preserving timber and ships’ cordage, with turpentine and charcoal as valuable by-products. As a large scale biome, habitat, soil stabiliser and coloniser and for its range of products, the Scots pine qualifies comfortably as a super tree.