Unlike deciduous trees whose defining characteristics make them easier to identify, many coniferous trees can look very similar. If you take a closer look at their bark, needles, and seeds, however, it’s clear that every pine, fir, and cedar has a personality and history of its own; you just need to get to know them. One such conifer is the Scots Pine.
The mature Scots Pine, also known as the Scots Fir or Scotch Pine, can be identified by its long, narrow, often twisted trunk that is usually bare of needles until its broad, flat or rounded crown. Young Scots Pines have the more typical pyramidal pine shape. Its bark near the crown is a distinctive flaky orange-brown, and it can be differentiated from other pine species by its two needle bundles. The needles of the Scots Pine are rigid and often twisted together, unlike other Pines with straight or more flexible needles.
Although abundant in High Park and other parts of Toronto and Ontario, the Scots Pine (if you haven’t already guessed by its name) is not native to Canada; it is a Northern European tree, and the national tree of Scotland. It is the most widely distributed pine species in the world, and because of this, it varies widely in shape and appearance. The Scots Pine is used and loved by many creatures of High Park, such as the Eastern Grey Squirrel as well as many species of birds. Scots Pine seeds are a favourite snack of the elusive Red Squirrel; if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of these little rodents sitting amongst the needles or searching for pinecones along the branches of a High Park Scots Pine.
Because of its incredible resiliency since its introduction to Canada, this mighty Pine has begun to flourish in places where native trees cannot, and has even been known to dominate some sensitive ecosystems, pushing native species out. Because of its invasive nature, some efforts have been taken to control the growth of this beautiful conifer in some parts of the province. But worry not, the Scots Pine will not be eradicated any time soon—this hardy pine will not give up that easily!
Next time you’re in High Park, see if you can identify the spirited Scots Pine amongst the other conifers—look out for twisted needles in bunches of two, orange-brown bark, and a long, narrow trunk with a wide, parasol-shaped crown.