Pinus sylvestris

Tracheophyta PinopsidaPinaceaePinusPinus sylvestris


P. sylvestris occurs as a native in pure stands or with other trees in mixed woodland. It prefers sandy and stony, acidic soils, though will also grow on waterlogged peats. It is widely planted in woods and shelter-belts, often becoming naturalised on heaths and bogs. 0-675 m as a native (Beinn a` Bhuird, S. Aberdeen).



World Distribution

Eurasian Boreal-montane element.

© G. Toone, IWNHAS

Broad Habitats

Coniferous woodland

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 6

Reaction (Ellenberg): 2

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 0.8

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 11.7

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1930

Height (cm): 3000

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Mega-, meso- and microphanerophyte



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 65

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.4

Weighted Changed Factor: 40

Weighted Change Factor Confidence (90%)


JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Pinus sylvestris L.

Scots pine

Status: scarce


The Scots pine occurs either in pure stands or in association with other trees, mainly Betula spp. P. sylvestris tolerates a broad range of climatic and soil conditions, preferring freely-draining acid soils though it will also grow on deep waterlogged peats. In many woodlands there is a characteristic shrub layer of Juniperus communis and other species (notably Salix spp. and Sorbus aucuparia), and an ericaceous dwarf shrub layer (mainly Calluna vulgaris and Vaccinium spp.). It reaches altitudes over 600 metres in Speyside.

P. sylvestris is an evergreen tree, often surviving for 150-200 years and reproducing entirely by seed. High levels of selling may occur, particularly in less dense stands, but these generally result in non-viable seed. All native pine woodlands have high levels of genetic variation (Giertych & Matyas 1991; Kinloch, Westfall & Forrest 1986). Some western populations are genetically distinct from the rest, and north-western populations are especially resistant to extreme exposure.

P. sylvestris formerly covered much of the Scottish Highlands, but it is now reduced by exploitation and over-grazing to a small number of scattered remnant woodlands. In recent years high deer numbers have severely restricted natural regeneration. Interest in the conservation and amenity value of native pinewoods has stimulated several current schemes for their protection and extension, the encouragement of natural regeneration, and the creation of new woodlands using authentic native material (Forestry Commission 1989; Forest Enterprise 1992). Efforts are being made to maintain the regional genetic distinctions.

P. sylvestris is the most widely distributed conifer, extending from the Spanish coast to the far east of Russia, and from the Arctic circle to the Mediterranean. It is widely planted on both local and commercial scales throughout Britain from various native and continental origins. 

The native British plant has been distinguished as subsp. scotica (PK. Schott) E. Warb., but it is not possible to give a consistent formal taxonomic treatment to the variation in P. sylvestris (Tulin et al. 1993). Its native range is disputed; the interpretation here is close to that of Steven & Carlisle (1959) and Perring & Walters (1962), but it has been suggested that the plant is native as far south as Northumberland (Swan 1993). For a more detailed account of the ecology of the British plant see Carlisle & Brown (1968); descriptions of the native pinewoods are provided by Steven & Carlisle (1959).


G. I. Forrest

Atlas text references

Atlas (16d)
Carlisle A, Brown AHF
1968.  Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 109. Pinus sylvestris L. Journal of Ecology. 56:269-307.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1973)
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.