Although not such an important tree in this country as many other conifers, the Stone pine possesses a peculiar interest beyond that of any other European conifer. From the earliest periods it has been the theme of classical writers. Ovid and Pliny describe it; Virgil alludes to it as a most beautiful ornament; and Horace mentions a pine agreeing in character with the Stone pine; while in Pompeii and Herculaneum we find figures of pine cones in drawings and on the arabesques; and even kernels of charred pines have been discovered. The Pinaster of the ancients does not appear to be the same as that of the moderns; the former was said to be of extraordinary height, while the latter is almost as low as the Stone pine. No forest is fraught with more poetical and classical interest than the pine wood of Ravenna, the glories of which have been especially sung by Dante, Boccacio, Dryden and Byron, and it is still known as the "Vicolo de' Poeti."
The Stone pine is found in a wild state on the sandy coasts and hills of Tuscany, to the west of the Apennines, and on the hills of Genoa, usually accompanied by, and frequently forming forests with, the Pinus pinaster. It is generally cultivated throughout the whole of Italy, from the foot of the Alps to Sicily. It is not commonly found higher than from 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet, but it occurs in the south of Italy as high as 2,000 feet. It is found, according to Sibthorp, on the sandy coasts of the Western Peloponnesus, in the same conditions, probably, as in the middle of Italy; it is also met with in the island of Melida. Cultivated, it is found on all the shores of the Mediterranean. In northern Europe, and especially in England, its general appearance is certainly that of a low-growing tree, its densely clothed branches forming almost a spherical mass; but in the sunny south it attains a height of 75 feet to 100 feet, losing, as it ascends, all its branches, except those toward the summit, which, in maturity, assume a mushroom form.
Seen in the soft clime of Italy in all its native vigor, the Stone pine is always majestic and strangely impressive to a northern eye, whether in dense forests, as near Florence, in more open masses, as at Ravenna, in picturesque groups, as about Rome, or in occasional single trees, such as may be seen throughout the country, but rather more frequently toward the coast. In these isolated trees their imposing character can be best appreciated, the great trunk carrying the massive head perfectly poised, an interesting example of ponderous weight gracefully balanced. The solid, weighty appearance of the head of the tree is increased by its even and generally symmetrical outline, this especially in the examples near the coast, the mass of foliage being so close and dense that it looks like velvet, and in color a warm rich olive green, strangely different from the blue greens and black greens of our northern pines. The lofty or normal type with the umbrella-formed top is almost peculiar to Central and Southern Italy. In other parts of the south of Europe, though often attaining large dimensions, it remains more dwarf and rotund in shape.
This pine has not been much planted in this country, owing, no doubt, to its slow growth and want of hardiness in a young state. Consequently there are not many large specimens, and certainly none to compare with those of Italy for size or picturesque beauty. Mr. A. D. Webster, the forester at Penrhyn Castle, North Wales, who has kindly sent us a fine cone of this pine, writes thus respecting it: "A fair-sized specimen of this pine stands on the sloping ground to the southwest of Penrhyn Castle. It shows off to advantage the peculiar outline of this pine, which is so marked a characteristic of those grown in the Mediterranean region. The trunk, which is about 4½ feet in girth at a yard up, rises for three-fourths its height without branches, after which it divides into a number of limbs, the extremities of which are well covered with foliage, thus giving to the tree a bushy, well-formed, and, I might almost add, rounded appearance. At a casual glance the whole tree might readily be mistaken for the pinaster, but the leaves are shorter, less tufted, and always more erect. The bark of the Stone pine is somewhat rough and uneven, of a dull gray color, unless between the furrows, which is of a bright brown. That on the branches is more smooth and of a light reddish brown color.
When closely examined, there is something remarkably pleasing and distinct from the generality of pines in the appearance of this tree, the leaves, which are of a deep olive-green, being, from their regularity and usual closeness, when seen in good light, like the finest network."
There is a moderately large specimen in the arboretum at Kew, and if this is the tree which Loudon in his "Arboretum" alluded to as a "mere bush," it has made good growth during the past thirty years. According to Veitch's "Manual of Coniferae," a fine specimen, one of the largest in the country, is at Glenthorn, in North Devon. It is 33 feet high, and has a spread of branches some 22 feet, while the trunk is clear of branches for 15 feet. Loudon enumerates several fine trees in these islands at that date (1854), only one of which was 45 feet high. This one was at Ballyleady, in County Down, and had been planted about 60 years. Even where planted in the most favored localities, we can never expect the Stone pine to assume its true character, and that is the reason why so few plant it.
As a timber tree it is of not much value. Mr. Webster says, "The wood is worthless except for very ordinary purposes. The timber grown here (Penrhyn) is, from the few specimens I have had the chance of examining, very clean, light, from the small quantity of resin it contains, and in color very nearly approaches the yellow pine of commerce. It cuts clean and works well under the tools of the carpenter. In its native country the wood has been used for boat-building, but is now, I believe, almost entirely discarded." This pine thrives best on a soil that is deep, sandy, and dry. It should be well sheltered and nursed, as it is rather tender while in its young state. It is best to keep the seedlings under glass, though they may be planted out in the open air after their fourth or fifth year.
The cones of this pine supply the "pignoli" of commerce. The Italian cooks use these seeds in their soups and ragouts, and in the Maritozzi buns of Rome. Sometimes the Italians roast the barely ripe cone, dashing it on the ground to break it open, but the ripe seeds of the older cone when it naturally opens are better worth eating. They are soft and rich, and have a slightly resinous flavor. The empty cones are used by the Italians for fire lighting, and being full of resinous matter they burn rapidly and emit a delightful fragrance.
Pinus pinea belongs to the Pinaster section of the genus. In the south of Europe it is a lofty tree, with a spreading head forming a kind of parasol, and a trunk 50 feet or 60 feet high, clear of branches. The bark of the trunk is reddish and sometimes cracked, but the general surface of the bark is smooth except on the smaller branches, where it long retains the marks of the fallen leaves, in the shape of bristly scales. The leaves are of a dull green, but not quite so dark as those of the Pinaster; they are semi-cylindrical, 6 inches or 7 inches long and one-twelfth of an inch broad, two in a sheath, and disposed in such a manner as to form a triple spiral round the branches.
The catkins of the male flowers are yellowish; and being placed on slender shoots of the current year, near the extremity, twenty or thirty together, they form bundles, surmounted by some scarcely developed leaves. Each catkin is not more than half an inch long, on a very short peduncle, and with a rounded denticulated crest. The female catkins are whitish, and are situated two or three together, at the extremity of the strongest and most vigorous shoots. Each female catkin has a separate peduncle, charged with reddish, scarious, lanceolate scales, and is surrounded at its base with a double row of the same scales, which served to envelop it before it expanded; its form is perfectly oval, and its total length about half an inch. The scales which form the female catkin are of a whitish green; the bractea on the back is slightly reddish on its upper side; and the stigma, which has two points, is of a bright red. After fertilization, the scales augment in thickness; and, becoming firmly pressed against each other, they form by their aggregation a fruit, which is three years before it ripens. During the first year it is scarcely larger than the female catkin; and during the second year it becomes globular, and about the size of a walnut.
The third year the cones increase rapidly in size; the scales lose their reddish tinge, and become of a beautiful green, the point alone remaining red; and at last, about the end of the third year, they attain maturity. At this period the cones are about four inches long and three inches in diameter, and they have assumed a general reddish hue. The convex part of the scales forms a depressed pyramid, with rounded angles, the summit of which is umbilical. Each scale is hollow at its base; and in its interior are two cavities, each containing a seed much larger than that of any other kind of European pine, but the wing of which is, on the contrary, much shorter. The woody shell which envelops the kernel is hard and difficult to break in the common kind, but in the variety fragilis it is tender, and easily broken by the fingers. In both the kernel is white, sweet, and agreeable to the taste. The taproot of the stone pine is nearly as strong as that of P. pinaster; and, like that species, the trees, when transplanted, generally lean to one side, from the head not being correctly balanced. Hence, in full-grown trees of the Stone pine there is often a similar curvature at the base of the trunk to that of the pinaster.
The palmate form of the cotyledons of the genus Pinus is particularly conspicuous in those of P. pinea. When one of the ripe kernels is split in two, the cotyledons separate, so as to represent roughly the form of a hand; and this, in some parts of France, the country people call la main de Dieu, and believed to be a remedy in cases of intermittent fever if swallowed in uneven numbers, such as 3, 5, or 7. The duration of the tree is much greater than that of the pinaster, and the timber is whiter and somewhat more durable. In the climate of London trees of from fifteen to twenty years' growth produce cones.
There are no well-marked varieties of the Stone pine, though in its native districts geographical forms may occur. For instance, Loudon describes a variety cretica, which is said to have larger cones and more slender leaves. Duhamel also describes a variety fragilis, having thinner shells to the seeds or kernels. Neither of these varieties is in this country, so far as we are aware. There are various synonyms for P. pinea. the chief being P. sativa of Bauhin, P. aracanensis of Knight, P. domestica, P. chinensis of Knight, and P. tarentina of Manetti. - The Garden.