Pinus cembra, also known as stone pine, is a remarkable tree species.
It has a very extraordinary character and for many people it is a symbol of Wilderness. It often grows in very remote places, where, mainly due to inaccessibility, small fragments of the European Wilderness have been saved until the present days.
A whole series of such Wilderness have a Pinus cembra mentioned in their birth certificate. Whether it uses it as a basic feature of the territory or as part of a larger, more complex ecological area. Among the most famous Wilderness territories related to the Pinus are the following: Swiss National Park, Switzerland, Hohe Tauren National Park, Austria, Tatra National Park, Slovakia, Retezat National Park, Romania or Gorgany Strict Reserve, Ukraine.
Pinus cembra has become an important element of protection and a symbol of Wilderness in the Carpathians and Alps.
The history of Pinus cembra
In ancient geological times, after the retreat of the last glaciers, more than 10,000 years ago, Pinus cembra was much more represented in European forests. During that period, this tree covered the vast territory of Europe.
Then, with the gradual increase of temperature, it retreated from the lowland. After that, from once extensive Pinus cembra forests, only fragments remained in the Alps and Carpathians.
Pinus cembra and humans
With the arrival of humans, the Pinus cembra mountain forests became an interesting source of highly attractive and high-quality pine wood. Centuries-long logging of Pinus cembra forests has significantly decimated their original distribution. Nowadays, we admire and protect only the remnants of the once vast Pinus cembra forests, often located on inaccessible mountain slopes.
After centuries of continuous human activity in Europe, remnants of Pinus cembra forests can only be found in the Alps and the Carpathians.
The story from the Carpathian
Currently in the Carpathians, the Pinus cembra grows scattered on the upper line of the forest, at the edge of the zone with the mugo pine. It grows only in the highest mountains of the Carpathians. In Romania, it is mainly Retezat, Fagaras or Paring Mountains. In Ukraine, it is Gorgany massif, and in Slovakia, it grows only in the Western and High Tatras.
Pinus cembra grows, in the southern part of the Carpathians, with an altitude around 1,800 meters. Towards the north, as the forest tree line decreases, the altitude where it can still grow also decreases. In the Slovak Tatras, which is the northernmost distribution of Pinus cembra in the Carpathians, it grows at an altitude between 1350 and 1450 meters.
Today, the presence of Pinus cembra in the Carpathians is very rare and only grows in small isolated groups at the upper border of the tree line. In the past, it grew on much larger areas. However, due to high-quality wood and the creation of the pastures, it was very intensively logged. Nowadays, it is a strictly protected species in protected areas throughout the Carpathian countries.
The story from the Alps
Pinus cembra grows all over the Alps Mountains, from the Maritime Alps in France to the Julian Alps in North Slovenia. More abundant stands can be found in the eastern part of the Alps.
The Pinus cembra has a much larger presence in the Alps than in the Carpathians. It is most likely because the range in which the Pinus cembra grows is much wider in the Alps and they provide suitable conditions for a more massive presence of this tree. It is mainly a high mountain elevation range suitable for its more massive occurrence.
Also in the Alps, the Pinus cembra was intensively logged for many centuries. The reasons for that activities were similar as in the Carpathians. It was considered a very valuable tree with high-quality wood. The second reason was the need to expand mountain pastures to grow a big amount of livestock.
On top of that, the Alps have a longer history of human settlement than the Carpathians. Therefore, its impact on the deforestation of the Pinus cembra forests was longer and more intense. Nevertheless, today the Alps offer many more opportunities to admire and enjoy the Pinus cembra forests in different corners of this mountain range.
Pinus cembra life-length
This pine lives until a great age. There are proved cases of even more than 1,000 years. It belongs to the oldest trees in the European mountains. It is very frost-resistant, tolerates temperatures as low as -50 °C and withstands even the strongest gales and snow drifts. The strong root system anchors it securely on steep rocky slopes.
All of this creates the conditions so that Pinus cembra is able to survive in the very harsh climate conditions of the high mountain environment and survive one generation of people after another.
The Pinus cembra is the undisputed queen of high mountain forests, both in the Alps and in the Carpathians. It has suffered a lot from the activities of man in the past centuries, who ruthlessly logged and burned it. Despite this human pressure, the remnants survived. Many of them are today important elements of the preserved mountain Wilderness. Those remnants were inherited by the current generation.
The spontaneous self-renewal of damaged Pinus cembra forests is very slow but continuous. It is a tree from which even today we can learn a lot.
For me, the Pinus cembra is a symbol of the Wilderness of high and inaccessible mountains.