The Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is more widely distributed than any conifer on Earth, according to the website Trees for Life. Its native range extends from western Scotland to eastern Siberia, and from southern Spain north to beyond the Arctic circle in Scandinavia. It was brought to the United States by European settlers, who planted it extensively--particularly in eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada.
Tree of Scotland
Although some in the U.S. refer to the tree as a Scotch pine, the preferred name in Scotland is the Scots pine. The Scots pine is a key species in Scotland's Caledonian forest, which at one time covered most of the Scottish highlands. Although Scots pines grow in many other parts of the world, their abundance in the Caledonian forest is distinctive because they are the forest's sole conifer. Because of Scotland's proximity to the ocean, its Scots pines provide a habitat for mosses and lichens.
In the U.S., the Scots pine makes a popular Christmas tree because it has excellent needle retention. Cut trees are long-lasting through the harvesting, shipping and selling process. Its foliage is stiff, making it useful for supporting a multitude of ornaments, both heavy and light. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, six to eight years of growing time is required to produce a seven- to eight-foot tree. Scots pines grown for the Christmas tree market require an annual shearing and protection from insects and disease.
A mature American specimen reaches 60 feet high and 40 feet wide. Scots pine needles grow in bundles of two, and depending on the variety may be one to nearly three inches long. The needles' colour may appear as bright green or dark green; some even have a bluish tone. The bark on the upper branches of mature specimens displays an attractive reddish-orange colouring.
Both male and female flowers, which look something like a candle, appear on the same tree in the spring. Once the wind carries the male pollen to fertilise the female flowers, a pine cone begins developing, taking a full two years to reach maturity. In warm, dry weather, the cone releases it seeds, which are very light and have a tiny "wing" attached. In a high production year, a Scots pine may produce 3,000 cones, which release tens of thousands of seeds.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation website, Scots pines are hardy in zones 3 to 7. They serve well as windbreaks or as single specimens, and are useful at reclamation sites because they readily reseed. In the late 19th and early 20th century, American farmers familiar with the Scots pine in its European habitat often planted the tree in worn fields because of its reputation for tolerating poor soil. Because the seed sources were highly variable, the trees sometimes produced disappointing results. Modern farmers, particularly those planting for the Christmas tree market, take care to select seeds that produce the tree's best qualities.