Monday 27 August 2018

Scots Pine: in history and in Byron's Gin

Scots Pine
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
Ancient pollen deposits suggest that Scots Pine is native to north-west Scotland (north of the Highland Boundary Fault) and forests of this beautiful tree once covered much of the Highlands.

Flora Celtica tells us that "the deteriorating climate, from the Mesolithic era onwards, did much to favour the development of bogs at the expense of pine forests from around 9000BC". The next impact on the forests occurred from the C17th onwards, as human populations increased and pines were increasingly felled for timber and transported southwards. Huge numbers of logs could be floated down rivers such as the Dee and the Spey when they were in winter spate. Once the timber reached the Central Belt, it was used to make cladding for houses, for furniture and for naval uses (oars, masts, spars and bowsprits).

Other parts of the pine trees were also used: split roots were used as tapers (candles) in poorer homes and to make creels (for lobsters, or for carrying seaweed up from the beach to spread on the fields). 

Scots Pine: female flower
Image courtesy of John
 Crellin/ Floral Images
Resin from the bark was also used as a medicine, mixed with beeswax and hog's lard to make poultices for sores. Pine oil is still used as an antiseptic today, for example in aromatherapy.

Today, native pinewoods cover only around 17,000 hectares in Scotland - this is believed to be only around 1% of the area originally covered. The tree is however widely planted in areas outwith its native range, and now extends from southern Spain northwards to Scandinavia, and from Scotland eastwards to Siberia. This BSBI distribution map shows where our members have recorded Scots Pine across Britain and Ireland.

Scots Pine has also been used since the 18th century to flavour beers and now small amounts of it are used in the award-winning Byron's Gin: Melancholy Thistle, along with other botanicals, such as Sweet vernal-grass, Rowan, Aspen, Downy Birch and Juniper, which grow in the grounds of Speyside Distillery and environs. 

If you want to identify Scots Pine when you are out walking: all pines have needle-like leaves grouped together in clusters of 2, 3 or 5. On Scots pine there are just 2 leaves in a cluster and they don't exceed 10cm (longer than that and you probably have Corsican Pine rather than Scots Pine). The bark on Scots Pine can also have a distinctive pinkish tinge to it which should help you identify it. 

And once you get home from your walk, you can enjoy a glass of Byron's Gin happy in the knowledge that for every bottle sold, a contribution is made by Speyside Distillery towards BSBI's training programme so that we can help more people learn to identify wild flowers, including aquatics, grasses and Scottish orchidsferns and trees. 

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