Description Pinus nigra, the European black pine, is a wide ranging and extremely variable evergreen conifer that usually has a straight trunk, pyramidal shape and strong horizontal branches that have upswept tips. Older specimens develop a rounded, umbrella shaped crown. Austrian pine is the best known of the several forms (see below) and is characterized by dark green needles that are densely crowded on the branchlets. The needles are stiff and straight, 3-6 in (8-15 cm) long, and always in bundles of two. The bark is dark brown to almost black and deeply fissured, forming irregular squarish plates. Female cones are shiny yellowish brown, slender and about 3 in (7.5 cm) long. Austrian pine can reach up to 100 ft (30 m) in height with a crown spread of 30 ft (9 m) or more. Most specimens in cultivation, however, are just 50-60 ft (15-18 m) tall.
There are many named cultivars of European black pine, including 'Aurea' with yellow needles on the young shoots; 'Balcanica' which is an irregular shaped cushiony mounded dwarf; 'Columnaris' which is columnar with short branches and long needles; 'Geant de Suisse' which is columnar and fastigiate (i.e., with branches that grow sharply upward), and needles over 7 in (18 cm) long; 'Variegata' which has needles splashed with yellow; 'Prostrata' which creeps along the ground on knee-like branches much like a mugo pine (Pinus mugo); and 'Hornibrookiana' which is dense and compact and only 2 ft (60 cm) high but 6 ft (2 m) wide. This last one originated as a "witch’s broom", an unusual but naturally occurring deformity in which many shoots emerge from a single point on the tree, resulting in a dense tangle of growth that can resemble a broom or a bird’s nest. Witch’s brooms are caused by disease or injury and occasionally occur on many species of trees, especially pines.
Austrian pine foliage and cone.
Location Pinus nigra ranges over central and southern Europe and adjacent Asia. Two subspecies are recognized, each with three varieties. The nominate form, Pinus nigra ssp. nigra var. nigra (Austrian pine) is described above and is (along with its many cultivars) the most common variety in cultivation in North America. Austrian pine occurs naturally in native forests from Austria and northern Italy, across southeastern Europe to the Balkans.
Pinus nigra ssp. nigra var. caramanica (Turkish black pine), characterized by pinkish or yellowish colored bark and larger cones, occurs in Turkey, Cypress and Greece. P. nigra ssp. nigra var. pallasiana (Crimean pine) often has multiple trunks, especially in cultivation. It grows naturally in Crimea, (perhaps along the Crimea River?). The other subspecies includes Pinus nigra ssp. monspeliensis var. monspeliensis (Cevennes black pine) which occurs in southern France, the Pyrenees and northern Spain. It has a more open crown with evenly spaced branches and flatter cones. P. nigra ssp. monspeliensis var. maritima (Corsican pine) grows in southern Italy, including Corsica and Sicily, and is characterized by a narrowly conical, almost columnar habit and longer, less crowded, flexible needles 4-7 in (10-18 cm) long. Corsican pine is sometimes classified as P. nigra ssp. laricio. Spanish (aka Algerian) black pine (P. nigra ssp. monspeliensis var. mauretanica) occurs in southeastern Spain, northern Morocco and northern Algeria. It’s a smaller tree with smaller cones and longer, more slender needles than the other varieties.
Young Austrian pines assume a symmetrical cone shape when grown in the open - great for Christmas trees!
Culture Light: Full As with most pine trees, Austrian pine does best in full sun. Daily shade on even part of the tree will cause it to grow inconsistently, and result in a tree without the uniform shape expected from most pines. Moisture: Austrian pine thrives with normal moisture and a well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3-7. Hardiness depends on the origin of the variety. Trees from North Africa and the Mediterranean region are less cold hardy than those from the Alps and central Europe. The most commonly encountered form, Austrian pine, takes the cold, but does not adapt well to zones 7 and 8. Propagation: The seeds of European black pine do not require a period of dormancy and germinate as soon as sown. Cultivars must be grafted onto seedlings.
European black pines are fairly fast growing yet long lived trees, suitable for parks and larger landscapes as well as suburban lawns. Most of the varieties and cultivars make good specimen trees and are suitable for evergreen screens and windbreaks. Old specimens of the treelike cultivars become quite handsome, and the weird, creeping, columnar, shrubby and contorted forms are eye catchers in their own rights.
Pinus nigra is an important timber tree over much of its natural range, and is commonly grown commercially in industrial pine plantations.
Austrian pine is a tough and hardy tree that can tolerate urban pollution, smoke, dust, salt spray, coastal and seaside conditions, almost any type of soil (including sandy, clayey and alkaline), and occasional droughts.
Steve Christman 12/09/97; updated 12/29/12
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Tallahassee, Florida USA