With the Pines

Hello Pines, both of you, pleased to meet you. It's the 9th of January 2024. The cold, really cold weather has changed into plus degrees, so the snow in your crown is melting and dripping on me here when I sit on this bolder. There is a sign on the other side of the bolder that it's brought here from the area around Viborg by the ice during the ice age. Well, the area of Viborg was not the aerea of  Viborg by then, but anyway it comes from the east, and is very ancient. But you, if we think of you as a family, are much much more ancient than that. You came here at the time of the dinosaurs, or even before. I decided - well I hope you don't mind, but - I decided I needed to study a little bit more about pine trees, to know more about pine trees, and what best way to do that to do it together with you. Since I met some of the other pine trees in the same park I decided I need to read a little bit also, so I found a book. And the other pines here in the park, they have their own specific character, but I guess most people walking by here would think of you as the real landmark, because you grow here, the two of you, on the... near the road and near the shore. So you're sort of easily recognisable. There are a lot of people walking and also skiing now in the park even though it's wet but never mind. So back to the book. I found a book by, written or compiled by, a huge book, by somebody called David Richardson, and it's called The Ecology and Biogeography of Pinus. So there is a lot of information of all kinds and I began by reading the introduction, or part of the introduction and I'm going to, yeah. And that's where I learned that you are a part of the so-called gymnosperms and not the angiosperms like most plants or flowers and so on, and that you're very ancient. And yes, so maybe I should quote the text so I don't invent something. So yes, when the earliest angiosperms were appearing in the early Cretaceous, that's 120 million years ago, you were already here. So gymnosperms arose much earlier in the middle Devonian, 365 million years ago. And I quote: "Evidence from fossilised cones shows that ancestors of Pinaceae", that's your family however that's pronounced "had evolved by the Mid Jurassic and that Pinus", your kind " had evolved by the lower Cretaceous." So you really, your ancestors really are ancient. No wonder that you're so strong. So now I quote further: "By the end of the Mesozoic, pines had diversified into two major groups, or subgenera; representatives of both subgenera, Strobus (... or soft pines, with one fibrovascular bundle in the needle) and Pinus", that is your kind "(... or hard pines with two fibrovascular bundles in the needle), survive today." So I understand you're probably part of this second branch of the family. But where did I find, there was... There was a beautiful passage describing why it is that you are so strong and have survived so long and are so widespread around the world, especially in the northern hemisphere. So now I quote: "Among the factors that have contributed to the rapid migration and population increases of pines in the Holocene are: their abundant output of seeds from an early age; their ability to recruit dense daughter stands on exposed sites soon after disturbance; effective mechanisms for long-distance seed dispersal; a mating system that permits inbreeding and selfing in isolated trees; and various life-history traits that confer resilience at the population level under a wide range of disturbance regimes; and the ability to colonize nutrient-poor sites." So yes, that I've noticed when I've met other pines elsewhere that you really thrive there were nobody else wants to live, tree-wise I mean. And you can take both damp and dry conditions as long as there is light. Yeah, but my purpose is not to preach to you or just to read aloud stuff, but I would like to somehow have some sort of support or refutal or confirmation of this knowledge. I understand that you can't know by heart everything that happened to your distant ancestors, but I hope you could somehow inform me, if you agree with this knowledge or not, or if it's relevant at all. Or yes, why, if it's relevant for you, I wonder, does it make a difference if your ancestors are ancient or not. But on the other hand, if we think of the genetic legacy as some sort of accumulated knowledge over millennia and so on, then you must be really really wise. I don't know what else I could, what can I expect from you except tolerance and patience with me. Even though you might not be able to teach me directly or engage in this conversation, literally through language or even comment on the text I read to you, somehow I think it makes sense to learn about you together with you. So thank you for this new start at the beginning of the New Year and see you soon again. Take care.

Hello Pines, it's a while, more than a month since I was here. I spoke with you in January. Now I will try to continue my pine studies with you again. I looked a little bit on the next section in the book by Richardson, about the whole species Pinus, and one small section of the introduction is called Morphological traits of pines. And of course that's about beginning with the growth form and size and size, and then also there the whole-tree longevity, so how long the pine trees live. And that's of course always interesting. So I quote here, from page ten onwards: "Pines, like many other conifers, have the characteristics of monopodial growth and large size. The largest species of pines in the world are centred in distribution in California and the Pacific Northwest of the USA." End of quote. So monopodial, I suppose means like having one trunk. That's why we in Finland grow so many pines too. Of course the pines a part of the natural flora here, but they also are a staple of the forestry industry. But anyway, I quote from Richardson, again: "The largest species of pine in both height and girth is Pinus lambertiana, which reaches over 75 m in height and more than 5 meters in diameter in the Sierra Nevada of California." End of quote. There are other big  pines, too, but those are the very biggest. That's absolutely amazing. Then about the longevity of pines. I quote: "Many pines are very long-lived, and the two bristlecone pines, Pinus aristata and Pinus longaeva are the oldest living organisms in the world" - well, that's what they claim at least in this book, alright that was a side remark from the quote, I continue quoting: "with the latter reaching documented ages of nearly 5000 years (according to Currey in 1968). The oldest living Pinus aristata was aged to 2435 years (by Brunstein & Yamaguchi in 1992). And NOoden (in 1988) lists two other pine species, Pinus cembra, which is about 1200 years and Pinus sylvestris 500 years. That's our common pine here in the north. And Nooden lists them as among the longest-lived plants in the world, but several other pines could also make this list, claims Richardson. And of course this made me interested in looking up what is the oldest pine in Finland. And they have found one almost by accident in the very north-east in the Urho Kekkonen National Park. And the pine at the time of measuring it or taking, making a hole and looking at that tree rings, they counted it's age to 764, so that's quite amazing. And what I think is most amazing is that it didn't look so very old. It was not exceptionally big or, but it was growing in the far north in harsh circumstances and the tree rings where minute, very very very small. And that's good to remember that the tallest pines are not always the oldest ones. I also looked for the tallest pine and then tall you can mean either by height or then bye girth, and sort of the fattest, the broadest trunk of a pine they had found quite nearby, 120 km or so from here, in a place called Pikku Parola, in today part of Hämeenlinna city. And it's actually quite near my childhood summer house in Kalvola, which is also now part of Hämeenlinna, so I should go and try to find it sometimes. And it was like 4 m and something, almost 5 m around the 'waist'. But back to the book. One more thing is interesting, and that's  the role that Pine trees have played in the dendrochronology, that is, counting the tree rings and understanding, for instance, climate change through changes in the tree trunks. And I quote: "Pines have played a fundamental role in the development of the modern science of dendrochronology, beginning with the pioneering work of Andrew Douglas, in the American Southwest. Douglas, who was an astronomer became director of the Lowell Astronomical Observatory in Flagstaff in Arizona in 1894. And with research interest in sunspot activity and possible related impacts on climate, Douglas was drawn to the possibility that tree rings might contain climatic records that would not otherwise be available from existing weather stations. Working with the Pinus ponderosa in the Flagstaff area, Douglas developed the concept of cross-dating to compare and extend these tree ring measures over broad regional areas to identify year-to-year variation in climate. It was this pine research that led him to establish the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona in 1906." End of quote. Then one more quote, so I quote: "Although the field of dendrochronology has expanded greatly in scope and depth since these early studies and involves work with many tree genera throughout the world, research with pines still forms the heart of this field. Pines contain the longest single chronologies available and some of the most sensitive chronologies for evaluating regional patterns of climate." And the reference here is Brunstein 1996. End of quote. So this is actually fascinating to think of that especially pine trees are important for this tree research. I always used to think that you had to cut down a tree and then count the tree rings, but luckily you don't have to do that but you can sort of stick in, like in the same way that they do with ice, actually thousands of metres, hundred of metres down in the ice in the Antarctic. You can sort of take a small slice of the whole tree trunk, and obviously that doesn't damage the pine tree too much. Anyway, I wouldn't like that. It sounds like a visit to a dentist or something, but of course it's interesting to think that pine trees can help us sort out climate change. But now it can be measured so obviously, because the climate has changed so drastically during the recent years that we don't need tree ring evidence for that, because there are measurements already. But nevertheless, I think it's nice to think of pines as our allies, not only with storing carbon, taking it away from the atmosphere, but also in the early days in finding out about the changes. But now when I look at you here, I realise I don't understand how old you are, because in some sense you look, well, as in your best years, vigorous and healthy and thriving, so it's very difficult to think that you would be very old. But there's actually in some of the text that old pine trees have their crown sort of bent downwards so they become like rounded almost like mushrooms. And there is a little bit of that turning at least in you, the one of the two of you that is nearest to me. But then again the one that is further away, although it looks like it's thinner, it has a bark that characterises old pines, shield bark, which is found on pines that are in the minimum of a certain age, which I have forgotten, which I have to read again. Yeah so this is sort of basic. No news for you, of course. But maybe you can be proud of thinking that the very oldest plants on this planet actually are your relatives. Well, thanks for this lesson with you again, and I hope you have a nice rest of the February and see you again in March. Thank you.  


Hello Pines, nice to see you. It's windy but not so bad and the wind is behind my back so maybe we can have a conversation. It's the 20th of March and this morning, early, around five, it was the spring equinox, meaning that the day and night are equally long. Spring equinox here in the north and of course autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere. To continue our studies or my studies about you with you, I looked up another section in the introduction to the book of Ecology and Biogeography of Pinus edited by David Richardson. And I chose one that speaks about pines in landscape, sort of what kind of areas pines live in. I quote: "Pines are found in a remarkably wide range of environments from near the Arctic where the winters are very cold and growing seasons are short to the tropics, where frost never occurs and growth continues through the year." (end of quote) Then they continue that (I quote) "Some pine species form virtually monospecific forests over very large areas whereas others form mixed forest with other conifers ... and broadleaf trees... or form savannas or open woodlands. Pines are the dominant trees over large parts of the boreal forest" (end of quote). So in some sence, although we are now in the middle of the city of Helsinki and in a park, this is in the area of the boreal forest of course; we are at the border of Siberia if you wish, or taiga. Well, Richardson further writes that, (I quote) "In boreal type forest pines (especially banksiana and contorta and ... pumila, and sibirica and also pinus sylvestris in Fennoscandia and the former USSR) occur with other conifers (like Abies, Larix and Picea); Abies, that's the spruce trees and Larix is what we call the 'leaf spruces' but I don't remember its proper name, the spruces that loose their needles for the winter, and then Picea and also several broad leaf genera, especially birches and aspen trees. Well, this was not a proper quote, but anyway. Now I try to read so I don't transform the text too much. (I quote) "Pines possess a range of specialised mechanisms that enable them to thrive (and usually attain dominance) in these harsh environments. Although the northern coniferous forest contain the greatest area of pine forest many more species occur in temperate regions. The ranges of the temperate pine species are generally much smaller than those of higher latitudes ....; in temperate regions, and even more so in the tropics, pines are usually associated with acidic, nutrient-poor soils." (end of quote) And of course that's true also for the boreal forest. So for instance in Finland where we have most of our forests today are forest plantations, the main trees cultivated are pine trees and spruce trees. And usually pine trees, I think, they thrive better when there is less humidity, so higher up on the slopes or where the soil is less rich, sometimes like in mires or bog-like areas, whereas spruces are more, they need better soil but they also transform the landscape very much; well, more of that later. Richardson continues (I quote) "That pines are not restricted to such sites, with nutrient-poor soil, is clearly shown by their ability to spread into more productive sites, both within and outside their natural ranges, following disturbance that reduces the competitive superiority of vigorous angiosperms. The disturbance regime is thus an important determinant of pine distribution and abundance in the landscape." And fire is the main ingredient or the main form of disturbance and an important part of the life of pine trees in nearly all pine habitats, they claim. Well, nowadays in these managed forests of course any fire that occurs would be put down as quickly as possible, but as we've seen now with climate change, it was not many years ago, there were huge fires, for instance in north of Sweden nearby that were difficult to extinguish when it was a very dry and hot summer. And of course further south in Europe this is occuring even more. This question of disturbance is interesting because of course man-made disturbances are more and more common these days. (I quote) "Several authors have defined 'ecological groups' of pines based on their response to disturbance." For instance there has been described five groups for the pines of North America, like one group is "thick-barked species tolerant of surface fires"; another group is "species that become established rapidly from seed after fires"; a third group is "species with moderate tolerance to shade"; the fourth species, the fourth group of species "found in unusually dry or cold environments, which have wingless, animal-dispersed seed"; and then the fifth group, "species of warm, humid environments with rapid growth and short leaf duration" (end of quote or reference). And then based on these traits we can distinguish the propensity of different pines to different landscapes. So they often form savannas but become dense forest if fires are suppressed. Like group one forms seral even-aged stands, and group two occur in association with other conifers and broadleaved trees, group 3 form savannas or open woodlands rather than forests, and group four form dense, usually seral forests. Well excuse me, actually I said the numbers wrong, so I repeat: Group one form seral even-aged stands - No I don't, I'm sorry because the numbers occur after the group. So, one group form savannas but become dense forest if fires are suppressed and that's the group one. And then there is a group that forms seral even-aged stands, and that's group 2. And then there is the third group that occurs in association with other conifers and broadleaved trees; a fourth group that form savannas or open woodlands rather than forests and a fifth group that form dense, usually seral forests. Based on, of course disturbance is only one aspect that influences the landscape that pines thrive in, but Richardson nevertheless and his colleagues, they discuss "the major pine habitats beginning with the coldest and moving to warmer climatic regimes" and they are the "boreal forest habitats", the "subalpine and timberline habitats", the "temperate forest habitats", the "mediterranean coastal habitats, arid habitats and finally lowland and montane tropical habitats." (That was end of quote). So if I now think of what I associate with pine landscape here in Finland based on the reproductions - of course also walking in pine forest but that's a limited experience, I'm a city girl - but still, there is like the pine landscapes are an important part of the national landscape in the country. The first, of course we are all part of the boreal forest have habitats, even the forestry pine trees, but the difference between the pine trees in the archipelago, the so-called 'martallar' or pines that look a little bit like you but might be even much more bent like really twisted and like dwarfs. They are very special to the archipelago and the rocky islands and cubs, not cubs but like cobs that you can find at sea. And pines are among the first to come after the spruce [I mean birch!] and the rowans there. Then a similar type of twisted pine trees, which I think are very beautiful, so I apologise, I don't mean that in a pejorative sense at all, they occur also high up in the north, in Lapland and closer to the tree line. And then small pines, and of course the twists are partly produced by the wind. Then other type of like dwarf pines, small pines, not necessarily twisted, can be found on bogland everywhere or not really bog but like sour soil as was mentioned before. But somehow the national landscape is formed of the the tall straight pine trees up on the higher slopes, so not on rocky hills but on the sort of not really mountainous but on higher ground, where there is still sufficient soil but not like that much water so the spruces are not competing, and there the pine trees form beautiful landscapes. Why, what makes them, why do I say they're beautiful? Of course because pine trees are very beautiful when they're tall and straight and have their crowns high up and the trunks of Pinus sylvestris are reddish and shine in the sunlight. Because the pine forests are so pleasant because they allow some sunlight; the crowns are high up and there is not that much shrubs and vegetation under the pines because the pines like to keep the world for themselves. I don't know if their needles are poisonous or they make that specific acidic soil, but compared to spruce trees, spruce forests, which are more dense and dark and difficult to walk through, like traditional, what I call traditional pine forests, are more open and beautiful in many ways. But of course what they don't speak about now, Richardson and colleagues here in the introduction, is something that I remember from the book by philosopher Emanuele Coccia, The Life of Plants, where he agrees that all plants not only respond to their environment but they produce their environment. And that's very true for the pine trees as well. So maybe it's not so obvious here, where you two are here alone among all the deciduous trees in the park; there are a few more pine trees further up, but anyway this is a park environment and you don't have the chance to really produce your environment here, humans intervene. But when you have the chance you create your own kind of world and that's a world that many humans at least here find also very pleasant. Yeah you're not, you are the major landscape architects around in these areas. Well I thought about talking about another text I encountered about dead pine trees that are called 'kelohonka' or 'kelo' in Finnish and that can remain without rotting and standing up like grey sculptures in the forest. I encountered an interesting text about that, but maybe that will be for another time. I thank you for your patience with me and with all these basic stuff that I'm sort of learning with you, but yeah. We're heading towards warmer times and now already the light increases so let's enjoy the spring season, which now begins. Thank you and see you again in a month or so.



(Hello pines, nice to see you again. It's the tenth of April and finally the spring is here. Today even the geese.) Probably they were here before but we had a lot of snow and what we call back winter last week, so it's only now it feels like spring. Today it's like a mixture of mist and sun, there is a forecast for wind in the afternoon but right now there is no wind and it's really, really pleasant. And you look great. And I was reminded of, looking at you two as somehow separate and individuals, too, by a talk I listened to or a conversation, interview with Keith Williams, organised by the Networking with plants community, and he mentioned, he spoke about gift economy and indigenous ideas of reciprocity and so on, but he also emphasised the need for attending to specificities. So not to consider plants or trees too, I guess, only in terms of species, but to recognise that you have your special preferences depending on your life history and your place of growth and so on. Nevertheless I'm going to continue with a little bit of studying pine trees together with you, the pine trees, by going back to the book by Richardson and others about the biogeography and ecology of pinus. And to begin with I can tell you, if you didn't know already, that you or your species Pinus sylvestris is the most widespread European pine and you extend from boreal habitat southwards into the deciduous forests of both the Atlantic and central European forest regions. I quote: "For the Atlantic forest region along the west coast of Europe Pinus sylvestris is native only in Scandinavia and Scotland but it has been extensively planted and become naturalised in areas to the south in England and western France." End of quote. Yes I remember many years ago in Ireland people were very unhappy with the plantations of Scots pine which were not at all native there, and a forest that was completely different in character, no actually not Scots pines but spruces, which created a forest completely different from the woodlands they were used to, which were mostly deciduous trees. And of course spruce forests and pine forests are very different, so excuse me for mixing them up. Back to the home areas of Pinus sylvestris, so you are again the most dominant species in the forest regions and mountains of central Europe. So I quote: "Scots pine woodlands characteristically occcur on sandy soils across the lowlands of northern Germany and Poland with or without associated hardwoods", such as Betula, Alnus, birch and aspen and so on, "and often with the ericaceous shrubs in the understory." End of quote. Ericaceous, I think it refers to Erica, which is heather, and at least the heather that grows here in Finland, it could well be thriving together with pines because it's on poor soils. And then Richardson calls you a plastic species, plastic not in the sense of created of artificial material produced from oil, but plastic in the sense of adaptable or formable. So I quote: "This plastic species is successful in montane habitats as well, however, forming woodlands on dry calcareous gravels up to subalpine in levels in the Alps. Nutrient-poor acid soil at elevations of 1400 to 2500 m in the Alps and the Carpathians support sparse forests of Pinus cembra, often growing with Larix decidua", leaf spruce we call it. "Dry dolomitic soils in the mountains of Austria and southwards into Croatia support the typical subspecies of Pinus nigra, the black pine. The dwarf mountain pine, Pinus mugo, forms the highest subalpine community in central Europe, as previously discussed." So these your relatives, Pinus nigra and Pinus mugo, they are sometimes planted as park trees even here. I think that the small shrub-like pines that look like bushes or hedges, they are probably Pinus mugo. And Pinus nigra, I don't know, maybe Pinus cembra more than that. Later in the in the chapter there is a sequence with the title Widespread versus narrowly-endemic pines. And that's of course an interesting question I've never thought of, but of course there can be diversity not only between different species but diversity within a species. I quote: "Relatively little direct attention has been given to considerations of the historical, ecological and genetic factors that have interacted to determine the limits of distribution of individual pine species. The extremes of patterns of distribution can be shown by contrasting such widespread and ecologically plastic species as Pinus contorta and Pinus sylvestris with highly localised endemics such as Pinus peuce and Pinus radiata." And here are some Homo sapiens of the touristic variety, I suppose, but that's no problem. Anyway, it might be interesting for you to know that "Pinus sylvestris has the largest geographic distribution of any pine, ranging in its occurrence from the Scottish Highlands along the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of eastern Siberia," so across the whole Asian continent actually in the north, "with a relic population throughout the northern Mediterranean Basin" as well. "It reaches latitudes from 70° N in Norway to 37° N in Spain and elevations from sea level to 2600 m. The ecological range of Pinus sylvestris is equally broad." So not only geographic distribution but also the ecological range. I quote: "It is common in boreal forests in northern Europe and across Asia where it shows strong dominance of the most xeric slopes and sandy soils. In western Siberia and Mongolia it is a species of the arid steppes and is largely restricted to river courses and the margins of lakes." Well, they also suggest that what remains of Pinus sylvestris in the Mediterranean region and in Central Europe that they are relics from the Pleistocene. That shows how really, really old you are. So "here Pinus sylvestris occurs in the montane and subalpin habitats in the mountains of northern Portugal and central and northern Spain across the Pyrenees to the Alps and Apennines, and then on to the Balkan Peninsula and southwards through the former Yugoslavia to northern Greece. It is also common in the mountains across Turkey and in the Caucasus where it may be found from the coastal to subalpine habitats." So that's a huge area, but then "with such a wide range of biogeographic and ecological distribution, it is not surprising to find that Pinus sylvestris is highly plastic and contains considerable genetic diversity." So now we come finally to this idea of diversity. And they write that, I quote: "This genetic diversity is particularly high at the intra-population level, but lower between populations and races, suggesting that there may have been a blending of genetically diverse populations during the Pleistocene when the range of this species was much more restricted." I'm not sure I completely understand, but I think intra-population level means probably the pines in a specific area and then between populations would be like some forest with pines in Spain and some forest with pines in Greece and that it's within specific populations that the genetic variety is bigger, which seems somehow surprising. Anyway, they write: "Much of the ecological success of Pinus sylvestris appears to result from its strong ability to disperse and colonize disturbed sites. Populations of this species in refugia in the Mediterranean Basin were important sources for dispersal and recolonization of glaciated terrain in Europe and northern Asia in the early Holocene." So the early Holocene, that's a period we live in now, even though they have suggested that we've entered the Anthropocene, but they haven't agreed on that so we're still in the Holocene. So when after the Ice Age the pines came back on soil that was freed from ice, they came from populations in the Mediterranean Basin. So you're probably coming from the Mediterranean after all; no wonder you look so Mediterranean. Alright, jokes aside, I didn't know that Pinus sylvestris was the most widely distributed pine species, but a few years ago I didn't know that there were so many other pines, I thought that all pines were like you. Well, now I know this is not true and that you're a very special species, but thinking of Keith Williams' point, you two are also very different. Although you're probably, very probably close relatives, although not necessarily, but I think especially your bark is very different. So you, the one nearer to me here, don't have a shield bark like your neighbour behind you, which has much more poignant shielded bark. Well, anyway, I don't know about your differences further than that your roots might be very, very different and probably they're also entangled very tightly. But maybe that's enough for today and I will come back again in May and let's see what topic we find to study then. Meanwhile enjoy the spring and take care.