Scots Pine – the 'pioneer' plant'

Scots Pine Tree. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Pine is one of the oldest seed-bearing plants on the planet. It is believed to have been around in the time of the dinosaurs some 300 million years ago!

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Scots Pine is known as a pioneer tree, able to thrive in hostile environments and make their surroundings more hospitable to allow other plants to flourish. Along with birch and willow, it was one of the first trees to make a home in Ireland after the last ice age and is the only pine native to the country. The Celts used pine primarily as a building material. Boats and ships were made from pine due to its high resin content which made it quite water resistant.

Tall markers

The tall trunks of the Scots Pine made great masts for ships and it is thought that they were also used as tall markers on the landscape at crossroads and ancient cairns.

The Druids associated the evergreen pine with the coming of the sun after the dark winter. Together with the yew tree, it was one of the twins of the Winter Solstice. The yew represented the death of the old while the pine embodied the birth of the new.

Scots Pine bonfires were lit to encourage the sun to come back and fertilise the land for the coming crops and pine glades were decorated in shiny trinkets to symbolise divine light and eternal life. Pine nuts would have been a vital source of food in midwinter when supplies were scarce and were also thought to increase fertility.

Evergreens bring protection and prosperity

Evergreens such as pine, fir and spruce seem to share the same mythology being similar in nature. In Germany and Scandinavia, it was customary to decorate a house and barn with evergreen for protection and prosperity.

Although the tradition of the Christmas tree is only a few hundred years old it does relate closely to some of these ancient rituals. The yule log, for example, also thought to be pine, was brought into the house in winter for light and warmth and to symbolise immortality.
Immortality, life force, renewal and fertility are common themes associated with the pine in many ancient mythologies, most likely due to its evergreen qualities.

Associated with Greek and Roman gods

Ailm, A – One of the ‘seven nobles of the wood’ scots pine is represented by the 16th ogham in the alphabet ‘ailm’.

In Ancient Greece, the pine had associations with Dionysus and Bacchus. Dionysus worshippers would carry a staff topped with an ornamental pine cone, the like of which has also been discovered on ancient fertility amulets of the time. This may have contributed to the pine nut’s reputation.

In Rome, the pine was connected to Attis the consort of Cybele, the Earth goddess. When Attis was killed by a boar he was said to have turned into a pine tree.

On the spring equinox, the priests of the cult of Attis would cut a pine tree and lay it down with some flowers to represent his body. They would then play music and dance into a frenzy offering a blood sacrifice in order to resurrect the life force of Attis and renew the fertility of the earth goddess who loved him.

Feeling of vitality

A walk through a pine forest is said to invigorate and refresh the soul. Pine resin has a distinct fresh fragrance that, when breathed in can give you a delightful feeling of vitality.

Today, many detergent manufacturers have harnessed this in the form of ‘pine fresh’. This and its modern use in household furniture take away some of the ancient romanticism of the tree to a certain degree.

The pine has been and remains a very practical tree and pine forests are now planted in abundance (possibly overplanted) throughout the northern hemisphere to the detriment of other species which ironically it naturally used to help flourish.

Trees in Celtic Mythology

Ogham – ancient Irish written language

Irish Art – pre-dating the Pyramids

Holly – guards against spirits and witchcraft

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