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Pine - Genus: Pinus An article from "The Trees Of Old England" by Leo H.Grindon

Pine - Genus: Pinus by Leo Hartley Grindon; Previously a Lecturer on Botany at the Royal School of Medicine, Manchester. Author of "Life: its Nature, Varieties, and Phenomena;" "British and Garden Botany;" " The Little Things of Nature;" "Echoes in Plant and Flower Life," and others.

Picture of the Pine - Genus: Pinus

Pine - Genus: Pinus A Sketch of the aspects, associations and uses of Pine - Genus: Pinus which constitute the forests and give effect to the scenery of Great Britain.

Among the many fine tribes of plants which constitute the Vegetable Kingdom, not one presents aspects more admirable than the family named after the Pine-tree. No trees attain greater stature than these. In very few instances do we find an equal longevity, or a corresponding massiveness of trunk and although the number of different species is comparatively small, no trees form forests of extent so vast, or of composition so exclusive. Linnaeus gave to the palm-trees of the tropics the happy name of the "princes of vegetable nature:" he might, with still greater propriety, have termed the palms the vegetable princes of hot countries; the pines and firs and their allies, the princes of cold ones. For while exogenous or branching trees are diffused over the whole world, and are found under every variety of climate except the extreme frigid, where no life can endure, palm-trees, on the one hand, are restricted within certain parallels of latitude, decreasing the further we depart from the equinoctial; and pine and fir-trees, on the other hand, belong emphatically to cold and temperate countries.

Not that either of these great races is without example where the other prevails. Far from it. There are palms even in the south of Europe, where they form an attractive novelty to the English visitor, especially to one seeking those portions of the Mediterranean coast of France which are the winter resort of invalids; and another kind, indigenous to the cooler parts of China, appears to be hardy enough to bear English Christmas weather without protection, being already an ornament of many a lawn. Similarly, there are trees of the pine and fir kind in the tropics; but it is generally at a considerable elevation above the level of the sea, or where the mountain-side provides a habitat and temperature not unlike that of the lowlands of the temperate zones.

One of the most interesting facts in botanical geography is the concordance between the vegetable productions of the plains in given latitudes, whether north of the equator or south of it, and those of the mountain-sides in latitudes not far removed. To ascend a mountain in the tropical and sub-tropical zones, is like setting out from the foot of that mountain and going due north in a direct line; or if the mountain in question be upon the Australian side of the equator, then it is like starting from the base and going in a direct line southwards. In a less degree, this curious parallelism is observable even in the mountains of Europe, which present successively, as we ascend them, the plants of countries more and more northerly. It may be remarked in the mountains of our own island. Very different is the vegetation of Borrowdale from that of the tremendous summits which rise upon its flanks. In the meadow by the river are the purple columbine and the lotus; as we ascend the slopes, their place is taken by the parsley-fern; and byand-by we enter the region of the club-mosses and the alpine lady's-mantle, with leaves that are plaited like a fan, and lined as it were with satin.

Here too are saxifrages and mosses, that, like the chamois tribe, are never seen upon the plains.

Just of this nature, only on a far grander scale, is the succession of plants upon a mountain-side in countries near the line. Ararat, Teneriffe, and the Himalayas, show it in perfection; and thus are we prepared for the existence of pine and fir-trees at a very little distance from palms, but higher up. Some of the noblest of the race are found upon the high grounds of Mexico and northern India; and coming nearer home, every one will remember the frequent allusions in Holy Writ to the firs upon the mountains of Palestine, and to the cedars that made Lebanon glorious, as contrasted with the palms which flourished by the water-side. The world may be compared to two great snow-capped mountains of the tropics, sliced off and placed base to base,' so that the tops shall be the poles, the midway portions the temperate zones, the conjoined bases the equatorial zone. In this fact there is no slight value, since the exact ratio that a given elevation bears to a certain distance north or south of the equator, is now pretty well known, and skilful men can calculate what plants are likely to allow of culture in remote countries, where instead of plains there are mountains, or vice versa.

In the structure of their stems and branches, pine and fir-trees resemble the oak. They have distinct bark, wood, and pith, and the annual rings by which their ages may be reckoned, are ordinarily very distinct. Viewed with the microscope, the fibres of the wood are found however to present a very singular and pretty appearance. They are marked from end to end with circular depressions, so differently dispersed as to serve as capital distinctive characters for the various kinds. Such marks rarely occur elsewhere, and are specially interesting in the case of the pine and fir tribe, from the circumstance of their being retained even when the wood is fossilized. This wonderful instrument, the microscope, not only illuminates the present, and by opening our eyes and hearts to a thousand new experiences of delight, absolutely lengthens life, since life, truly so called, consists in agreeable impressions: it not only does this it casts light into the graves of Time, and informs us of the nature of the trees that swayed in the wind of the infinite past, long before there were men and women to listen. The leaves, on the other hand, so far from resembling those of oaks, are narrow, and usually needle-shaped. Their veins, instead of meandering in all directions, run in lines that converge towards the point, and not seldom the entire leaf is little more than a stiff green bristle. So with the flowers. Though definite apparatus is present for the production of seed, and the distinction of sex is as plainly marked as in the oak, here everything is of the most simple kind. The sweet brightness of rose and lily is entirely wanting; even the plain coverings of a grass-blossom are not to be found; Nature seems to have taken pleasure in showing how, with the utmost stateliness of figure, could be associated the last extreme of incompleteness as to flowers. The stamens make their appearance either in little sheaves along the branches, as in the larch-tree, or in clusters that seem mountains of such sheaves; the pistils are developed in connection with the rudiments of those elegant and familiar productions known as fir-cones; not however, as in other plants, in the form of a closed ovary, but as flat scales, with the ovules lying at the base; and when the time arrives for the pollen to be conveyed to the ovules, it is transmitted, not through a stigma and style, but immediately. The pollen gone, the stamens wither away and fall to the ground; the clusters of ovules, with their protecting scales, undergo changes similar to those of ripening fruits, and in due time we get the cone, now a hard and solid body, and oftentimes more like the work of the wood-carver than the produce of a tree. The variety in these cones is most wonderful. We see in it once more how amazing is the ingenuity that, dealing with a simple idea, apparently susceptible of no modification, shall nevertheless play upon it as a musician upon his lute, and strike us the more by displaying resources where and when least expected. The pieces of which the cone is composed are not, as would at first appear, altered remains of a perianth; they are the scales by which the female flowers were sheltered, now enlarged and indurated, and forming a kind of capsule for the seeds. While young, they remain closed; when mature, especially if exposed to warmth, they separate, and the seeds fall to the ground. But in many cases the seeds are provided with a wing, which enables the wind to carry them to a distance.

What a beautiful phenomenon is this of the wings of seeds! " Give us wings " is the universal cry of nature; and though we commonly associate such wings with plants like thistles and dandelions, in truth there are as fine examples, yea finer ones, among trees. One of the most exquisite productions of nature is the winged seed of the Brazilian tree called by botanists Bignonia ecfiinata. Though in no way related to the pines and firs, it has a wing to every seed, spreading on each side like a film of iridescent glass, thinner than the thinnest tissuepaper, and in width and general appearance reminding us of a white butterfly. When cast into the air, the seed slowly circles downwards, like a falling leaf in October, unless caught by a current of air, when it sails away into the aerial sea. The peculiar fruit of the pines and firs familiarly known, as above said, by the name of the "cone" was early taken advantage of in order to give an appropriate name to the family. Whether pines or firs, cedars or larches, botanists call this magnificent race by the name of "Conifers" or "Cone -bearers," and under this name we shall henceforth always speak of them.

One species only is a native of Britain that one commonly known as the Scotch fir, though technically a pine. The difference between a pine and a fir is very easily made out. Firs have their leaves irregularly distributed over the surface of the branch or twig, and every leaf grows quite distinct and apart from its neighbours. In pines, on the contrary, the long leaves grow in couples, or in threes, or in fives, and the base of every set is enclosed in a sheath formed of brown scales. Moreover, in the cone of a fir-tree, the scales are always thin at the edge; whereas, in the cone of a pine-tree, they are much thickened, forming protuberances upon the general surface, and giving the cone that richly-tesselated appearance which is so greatly admired. The "Scotch fir," accordingly, is properly the Scotch pine, as expressed in its botanical name, Pinus sylvestris. It grows wild throughout the Highlands of Scotland, and, not improbably, is wild also in some parts of England; but so many thousands of trees have been planted for use and ornament, that now it is next to impossible to discriminate the aborigines, if any really survive. The place to look for wild ones is the remote mountainside. So thoroughly is the pine a mountaineer, so truly indeed, are all conifers children of the heights, that it is supposed by some that the very name of Pinus is but an altered form of the ancient Celtic word for a mountain, as preserved to this day in Ben Lomond, Ben Nevis, Ben Cruachan, and in the name of the Apennines. Were this the place, an entire chapter might be written on geographical names taken from plants and trees, and, contrariwise, on names of trees, &c., taken from those of countries and localities; it must suffice, however, to indicate that such a subject awaits the scrutiny of the curious, and to mention the Morea, as so called on account of that peninsula resembling in its outline the leaf of the mulberry-tree, Morus nigra; and Buckinghamshire, as signifying the home of the beech-trees, "beech" being only another spelling of the older Teutonic name, buck, or buch.

As we are made best acquainted with it, the Scotch pine is generally found in great platoons, or used almost alone for large plantations. Sometimes it is mingled with others of its race; frequently it is the only tree over an area of miles in extent. It is altogether unfit for a hedgerow tree, being incapable of giving shelter when standing alone, and soon becoming unsightly. Whether formed of this tree alone, or of conifers in variety, a pine-wood is one of the most imposing scenes in nature. It is totally different from a forest of trees such as oaks.

The latter kinds of trees are deciduous. Not so the conifers. These, excepting the larch, preserve their foliage all the year round, of course periodicallycasting the dead leaves, after the manner of plants in general, but still, for ever and always continuing dressed in green. At two seasons of the year, the conifers, like other trees, show a difference in their complexion; namely, in spring, when the new shoots start forwards, oftentimes in elegant horizontal sprays, like the hands of a strong swimmer put forth for the new stroke j or lifted on high, like plumes of green hair: they are remarkable again in late autumn, especially in the case of the Scotch pine, when other trees are fast becoming dismantled. For at this season, in the gloom of November, often indeed in October, when the ground is strewed with the earliest fallen leaves of the ash and the sycamore, the Scotch pine also casts its older leaves; and the new ones, developed during the summer that is now a memory, no longer clouded by the dark and brownish hue of the departing ones, shine with a lustre we do not observe except at this moment. In a word, Scotch firs usually look best at the close of autumn. With the evergreen character of the tree is to be associated, if we would rightly understand the pine-forest, the remarkable uprightness and straightness of the trunks, and generally speaking, the symmetry and mathematical precision of the branches. The Scotch pine is less remarkable in this respect than many others; they are features, nevertheless, in which it shares. A coniferous tree is never found accommodating itself to the surface of broken ground. The branches never hang themselves over a waterfall or the brink of a ravine. They refuse to receive impressions from surrounding conditions, maintaining their own original and inflexible direction. On a mountainside, we may notice, even as we rush past in a rail waycarriage, the stiff and erect green pyramids, every tree the exact counterpart of every other, and the stems as straight as the columns of an ancient temple. Go into the deepest and shadiest glen, and it is still the same. Not a bough deviates from the angle prescribed by the great Architect; we seem to be in a kind of vegetable Alhambra, so regular are the proportions, so tall and so graceful are the pillars.

In a pine-forest this straightness is made so much the more noticeable from the circumstance of the trunks of the trees being ordinarily destitute of branches for a considerable distance above the ground, so that we seem to be thrown into a labyrinth of brown poles. On these branchless trunks is seen neither mistletoe nor ivy. A peculiar independence and royalty of nature in the conifers generally, seems to keep all such visitors aloof. True, there are examples of both parasites and epiphytes occurring upon them; but in England this is very rarely the case, so rarely, that the exception is merely the proof of the rule. No woodbine ever twines round the stem of a pine or fir. The wild clematis, that loves to deck other trees with its flossy tufts, at the season when red berries abound, is to the conifers an utter stranger. Even brambles and wild roses, which often contrive to find a lodgment for their upper trailers amid the boughs of the forest, are denied entrance by the conifer. To all comers there is still the same old dignified refusal of admission.

Partly owing to the dead leaves upon the soil, and partly to the dense and unbroken shade given by the conifers, and by none more decidedly than by our indigenous species, in the pine-wood again there is an almost painful dearth of herbaceous vegetation, and consequently of flowers. No one ever gathers primroses in a pine-wood. The ground is never lighted up with anemones; nor do blue-bells or forget-me-nots spread carpets of azure upon it. A few procumbent brambles, serving only as traps for the feet; a few of the larger kinds of sylvan shield-fern, and a few mosses that grow in cushion-form tufts, constitute nearly the whole of the vegetation. Scattered among their alien-looking foliage are the withered brown needles and the emptied cones that have fallen from overhead, perhaps even years ago, for they are slow to decay; and except that quaint fungi spring up in autumn, there is nothing else to attract the mere collector into these solemn recesses.

But for the contemplative and the poetic mind, there is no more powerful influence than is found in the pine-wood, and this at any season of the year. In truth, the pine-wood is not a place wherein to note seasons. It is independent of them; presenting none of that sweet succession which makes ever-changing picture-galleries of the meadows; and except when the trees sustain their share of the white wonder of winter, the aspect is perennially the same. The pinewood is always still. Therefore we note in it more intensely than anywhere else, that grand sound of the wind among the tops that is so like ^the distant song of the sea. This circumstance has attracted the notice of observers of nature in all ages. Theocritus, who wrote pastorals more than 2000 years ago, commences one of his poems with "Sweet is the murmur of the wind among the pine-trees" The poets of our own age might be quoted a hundred times, in echo. Probably the sound in question comes of the needle-like form of the leaves, and of their infinite number, the wind playing among them in a way that the broad flat leaves of such trees as the oak cannot possibly admit of. Then there the associations; for a true poet never rests in the sentiment of simple beauty or the sense of awe, or of grandeur, or of duration. His sympathies run immediately to things that concern the welfare and the happiness of his race. The test of tmcommon sense is that it can throw light upon the things that belong to "common" sense; and the test of the true poet is that he can enter into the practical, illustrate it, make it more delightful in our eyes and to our daily experience; that he can marry, in a word, the ideal to the familiar and prosaic. If he do not do this, he is only a sentimentalist, and the world does not require him, nor profit by his presence in it. Take for instance the thoughts that arrest the mind as to the utility of these wonderful trees. The profusion of their growth, and their stateliness, as set forth in the pine-wood; their duration also, and the serenity of their lives, all seem fitting counterparts of their inexpressible value to man. Timber of the most admirable description, as deal and cedar; resins in a score of kinds, translucent and inflammable; with many other useful articles of human need, are supplied by their different species, and in some cases, are the last that we should expect from conifers. Creasote, that assuages the pain of an aching tooth, is derived from a conifer; so is that exquisite balsam in which the microscopist preserves his curiosities, giving them a shrine such as monarch never possessed. Canada-balsam, the substance used for this purpose by microscopists, represents in their hands the resin of those ancient conifers which we now know under the name of amber. For amber was once the liquid secretion of a primseval pine or fir, and the insects we find embedded in it were preserved by the elegant operations of nature, just after the same manner as those of the microscopist's cabinet.

So true is it over again that man, with all his ingenuities and discoveries, when he opens his eyes and walks into the archives of nature, invariably finds that he is only a copyist, an unintentional and unconscious one, it may be, but still only a copyist. Nature is beforehand with him in all his devices and designs.

Even food is supplied by conifers, namely, in the seeds contained in their cones, which are often of considerable size, and full of nutritious matter. This is the case with the seeds of the stone-pine, which are commonly eaten in Italy. The Swiss and Siberian pines, and many others, also yield eatable seeds. Wood, as supplied by the conifers, has its most celebrated representative in that of the cedartree. But the true cedar, native of the mountains of Lebanon and thence called Cedrus Ifibani, must not be confounded with the red cedar used for leadpencils. The latter is the produce of an entirely different tree, the Junip&rus Bermudiana, and, as its botanical name imports, is brought from the West Indies. Lebanon cedar is pale and yellowish; and although it exhales an agreeable odour, the scent is by no means so strong as that of the pencil-cedar.

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Pine - Genus: Pinus An article from "The Trees Of Old England" continued...

Pine - Genus: Pinus

There is an impression with some people that the ark was built of cedarwood, since the consonants in the name gopher bear some resemblance. But this is altogether hypothetical: what "gopher" was seems quite past finding out. The cedars of Lebanon, it may be added, are not, as has often been thought, nearly extinct. There is a pathetic account, in certain books, of only 23 being found in the middle of the 16th century; only 22 a hundred years later; in 1737, only 15; in 1810 only 12; and in 1818 only seven! The writer admits, however, that there were always "plenty of young ones," the above figures referring only to the patriarchs; and now it appears, from recent explorations, that the tree is still plentiful, though not exactly upon Lebanon.

There is something very grand, again, in the contemplation of the vast age attained by conifers, the ordinary minimum being two or three centuries. That is to say, two or three centuries constitute their potential lease of life, which they will exhaust, if not prematurely destroyed either by accident or for the purposes of human enterprise and need. Many species live to be seven or eight hundred years old, and the colossal Wellingtonias of California are estimated to reach nearly 2000. In the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, up to the time of the disastrous fire, December 30th, 1866, stood the bark of the lower portion of the trunk of one of these vegetable Anakim, for they are giants as well as primaevals, and no one who glanced at it could doubt for a moment that the tree must have been alive in the days of the Caesars. We have nothing like such longevity exhibited in any conifers in England, though there are examples of yews in this country computed to be more than 2000 years old; but it is quite enough for the reflective man to stand in a forest of such trees as the Scotch fir, and consider what a dynasty he confronts. The venerable in nature is always commanding; but when age stretches back to the days of the Coliseum, it becomes almost above believing. Never, perhaps, does the brevity of human existence affect us so powerfully as when contrasted with these seemingly immortal trees. Generations come and go, but they continue unchanged. Schleiden, the celebrated German botanist, and some disciples of his in England, compare these vegetable Nestors to the planet on which we dwell, teaching that the trunk of the tree is the analogue of the surface of the earth, while the foliage represents the successive tides of population. Nor is there anything in the comparison that philosophy would object to. The individual contents of the world are in every instance miniatures, after their own fashion and in their own way, of the magnificent total of nature. Every one of them is imperium in imperio a kingdom within a kingdom, presenting all the parts, principles, and phenomena of the collective, only in a subdued and more attenuated manner, appropriate to the sphere of its own utility.

Tall, straight, hardy, and long lived, our noble Scotch fir is a native of Europe generally, but not of America. The flowers appear plentifully in May and June, and towards the close of summer the young green cones may be found, presenting however, so different an appearance from the brown, open, and emptied "fir-bobs" which strew the ground below, that seen asunder, the inexperienced could scarcely imagine them the same thing. At this period they are green, tapering, and with an unbroken and tesselated surface. They require about eighteen months to become perfectly ripe. None are produced till the tree is fifteen or twenty years old; after that they are plentiful every season; and on careful scrutiny, will be found to contain from 60 to 100 seeds each. These, when they vegetate, like those of all other conifers, show the pretty novelty of five or six cotyledons instead of the pair we are accustomed to in our flower-gardens, or the solitary one of lilies and cereals. .Hence the conifers are described as " polycotyledonous."

As a timber-tree for poor soils, and in exposed situations, the Scotch fir has no superior, except perhaps, the larch. Different soils, however, greatly affect it. Upon chalk this tree is short-lived, and never attains any considerable dimensions; those soils suit it best which are favourable also to the sycamore, the elm, the oak, and the ash. A cubic foot of the wood, when recently cut, has an average weight of 64 Ibs.; when dry, the weight is reduced to about 36 Ibs. The facility with which it can be worked renders it exceedingly valuable to the carpenter. It is at once straight, light, and stiff; and although like the wood of all other conifers, it contains knots, they are much more easily travelled through by the joiner's tools, and are much less liable to drop out of flooring boards, than is the case with the knotty timber of the spruce and silver fir. Rafters, girders, and joists may be procured of smaller dimensions by using Scotch fir than from any other wood yet discovered.

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