The Maritime Pine

The Maritime Pine -- Le Pin Maritime

This area, the Lot and Dordogne region, has many woodlands with a large number of maritime pine trees. They are grand and majestic, serenely towering over the many chestnut trees about them. They are notably on acid soils. Where the soil is alkaline the woods have a totally different aspect and there the pubescent oak predominates. Perhaps neither pine nor chestnut is native to the region. The pine, I am led to believe, was introduced in the XVIIIth century, as it was in the southwest region of Les Landes. Now they are rapidly seeding into the neglected chestnut plantations. Both trees were planted on pre-existing heathlands. The chestnut was planted for its fruit, used as a staple diet. The pine for timber or its resin. Before these plantations the heaths (les landes -again- in French) were probably kept free of trees through heavy grazing by the goats and sheep of the peasantry. Whatever native trees were once there may have included pines, but perhaps not this species, maybe the Scots pine. In time I would think that the introduced maritime pine will replace the introduced chestnut.

The leaves or needles of all pines are arranged in small clusters or 'dwarf shoots'. Most species have two needles to a cluster, some have three, and some five (e.g. the Weymouth pine). It is extraordinary that whatever the number, they can always be folded together to form a neat smooth cylinder. The needles of the two needled pines have by this nature a semi-circular cross section. The leaves have resin canals and in the variety of the maritime pine grown on the Atlantic coast there are only two canals. The Mediterranean form has more. As my trees have leaves with two canals I guess that they originate from the western population. The beautiful large hard shiny cones (up to 22 cm long) have a intricate mathematical structure. With all cones the scales on which the seeds are formed are arranged in two interlacing spirals. If you count the spirals in the two opposite directions then they always make adjacent numbers within the mathematical series 3, 5, 8, 13, etc (the next number is the sum of the two previous). This is the Fibonacci series. The relationship of the numbers in this series underlies much of the growth of plants and also creates our concept of beauty in the forms of beautiful architecture including the Parthenon and the 'golden rectangle'.

The bark structure of pines is also unusual. The underlying growing tissue forms repeated arcs. From these, layers of bark increase and eventually create large thick chunks which fall off, so that the base of the trees is surrounded with a mulch of shining shards of bark.

It is said that pine woods rather than the chestnuts, favour the red squirrel so that, if true, is a further delight.

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