Pines


Four new pine trees have arrived in the park: two Austrian and two Scots.

 Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is the shaggier, sparser of the two.


Scots pine and downy birch were among the first trees to return to Scotland after the Scandinavian ice sheet retreated, making that conifer about as "native" as you get. But then if we hadn't had an ice age, we'd likely have inherited forests of laurel and magnolia.

For a native, it sure does look like Alien, though.


It'll be very different when it's a soaring giant with a high canopy. Scotland's conifers (particularly Scots pine) help support some rare species (wildcat, red squirrel, pine marten ... and more).

They're also important for Scotland's rare birds. We won't see golden eagles swooping upon capercaillie in a park in middle Edinburgh (though Fred Pearce in The New Wild mentions peregrine falcons roosting near him in the turrets of Chichester cathedral and diving on the city pigeons). However Scots pine trunks are popular homes for insects, so in a few years' time, our cute little local treecreepers might take an interest.

And here is a gratuitous picture of one, just because I like them so much: note the tiny curved beak it uses to pick out insects from bark.


Both the park's Scots pines are in front of the tennis courts on North Meadow Walk. One can be seen in the opening photo of this page; the other (below) rests in the shade of a huge sycamore.


In late May the two Scots pines have suddenly become especially interesting. All over the branches you can see cones of both genders, from the familiar mature woody ones, to the immature green ones, to the tiny colourful new ones just emerging.

Below are some female cones, which tend to sit higher on the tree. The female cones of Scots pine are initially small and are usually referred to as "flowers" at this stage, though they really are cones.)

For a brief period, at this time of year, they're bright pinky-red and look a bit like the rubbers on the end of old-fashioned pencils. (They're even smaller. These pictures are enlargements.)



And these below are the male flowers/cones, each similarly tiny, and soon to become slathered with pollen



The reddish-brown sheaths, which look a bit like streaky bacon here, protect the immature needles. Here are the male cones at a slightly later stage


And here are some pictures from last year, when the new pine trees had just been planted.



If you look closely, you can see that the mature green needles were growing in pairs: a clue that this is a pine


Later, the new needles broke out 


And the larger female cones developed, eventually becoming green 



Which slowly in their second year turned brown  ...


... and then their scales separated into the familiar open pine cone, which sometimes has pinky tints.



Just under some of the scales, if you take a pine cone and look carefully, you can see the flat seeds growing against them.


On fine dry days, pine cones open up to let their seeds fly away; on wet days they close in again.


Austrian pines (Pinus nigra Austriaca) are hardy trees, and lush for a conifer.  One of the park's Austrian pines is in the Tollcross corner



The other is still in its tree guard, near the signposts at the north-west end of Bruntsfield Links


Like Scots pine, its needles grow in pairs, as can be seen in this enlargement of one of its twigs. One way to identify pines is that their needles are bunched like this: in groups of 2, 3 or 5.


The tiny mass at the tip of each bundle at the end of the Austrian pie shoots may grow into clusters of miniature cones:





As yet the two new Austrian pines don't have any grown cones, so I'll be returning to them to watch these change.

Here's a map of where to see the four pines.