Scots Pine - European Tree of the Year

The Wood Technology Society
23 Apr 2020

Scots Pine - European Tree of the Year


Pictured above (Courtesy of Marek Olbrzymek) is the European Tree of the Year 2020.  It is claimed to be 350 years old and is found in a reservoir in the Czech Republic.  Interestingly it is a Scots pine.

You will remember that in late 2019 we did an article on the British Tree of the Year 2019 – an oak in Liverpool – please follow this link for more information.  So, we have decided to enlarge on Scots pine.

It is a softwood species of note, in that is the only true pine that is indigenous to the whole of the UK, and regenerates (grows) naturally, especially in Scotland and the Border counties.  Scots pine woodlands further south are generally the result of planting.

It also has a wide distribution on mainland Europe, where the timber is commercially known as redwood (with variations, for example, Finnish redwood, Russian redwood, Swedish redwood), red deal, or just pine.  In the UK, it is labelled as Scots pine, and British grown Scots pine tends to have slightly distinct properties compared to its continental counterpart.

Botanically known as Pinus sylvestris, the tree is generally full grown at 30m high, with a one metre diameter.  Local growing conditions can mean considerable differences in the quality of wood cut from logs.  For example, Karelia redwood (Russia) is slow grown due to the colder climate, with tight growth rings and small sound knots, making it ideal for high quality joinery.  On the other hand, Scots pine from UK forests is much faster grown, and hence has wider growth rings (sometimes as few as 6 rings per inch), and larger knots. This typically means that it is more suitable for construction uses. It also means that the broad sapwood band in homegrown Scots pine (favoured for high permeability in fencing and other preservative treated products) is much wider than the sapwood band in continental redwood.

Scots pine has been “all around us” for ever! It was especially important in the Middle Ages as a material for construction, furniture and shipbuilding.  Oak was another key species of wood at that time.

According to Paul Kendall the Druids used to light large bonfires of Scots pine at the Winter Solstice to celebrate the passing of the seasons.  Scots pine is a keystone species in the Caledonian forest, a large expanse of wild native Scots pine forest in the Highlands of Scotland. Several Scottish place names still retain Guibhas in their name, relating to the Scots pine present there in the past.

Scottish folklore suggests the use of Scots pine trees as markers in the landscape, and to mark burial places of warriors, heroes and chieftains. In England, Scots pine trees would have stood out more in the landscape and were used to mark drove roads, and the sites of meadows for the drovers to rest overnight.

The heartwood of Scots pine is moderately durable, as a result of its extractive content, and the natural resin which the tree produces. Pitch could be made from this resin and applied to increase water repellency and durability of timber. Production of rosin and pitch from pine continues in France and other regions today.

Scots pine   Scots pine - bark