Stone Pine


You may as well forbid the mountain pines
To wag their high tops, and to make a noise.
When they are fretted with the gusts of heaven.

It is always pleasing to hear the regrets which the peasantry express at the loss of any very ancient tree in their immediate neighbourhood. They look upon it with a certain degree of veneration, as to an old and valued friend, and point it out with no little pride to strangers. The few remaining Gospel Oaks amongst us are some of the trees in question, and to which an old legend or story is generally attached, and so are some of our venerable yews. Mr. Ruskin says: “I was glad to hear a Spanish gentleman, the other day, describing, together with his own, the regrets which the peasants of his neighbourhood had testified for the loss of a noble stone pine, one of the grandest in Spain, which its proprietor had suffered to be cut down for a small gain. He said that the mere spot where it had grown was still popularly known as ‘El Pino.'”

The cultivated or stone pine is indeed a noble tree —”Pulcherrima Pinus in Hortis.” If we may believe the Life of Homer, attributed to Herodotus, the cones of this tree dropped around the venerable bard, as he lay on Mount Ida beneath a pine, and which he complimented in the following lines, which may be thus translated:

What tree on Ida’s airy tops of pine
Is known to scatter better fruit than thine?

Macrobius relates a pleasant anecdote concerning these cones, which in common language were called “Poma pinea,” or Pine-apples. “There lived in the Augustan age,” he tells us, “one Vatinius, who, by some means, had irritated the Roman people so much that they pelted him with stones when he entertained them with gladiators. In order to save himself from such treatment for the future, he procured an edict from the Ediles that no persons should throw any but apples in the amphitheatre. It accidentally happened that at this time Oascellius, eminent for his wit as well as knowledge of the law, was consulted on the question whether a pine-apple (the cone of the pine) was legally included in the term pomum, an apple* ‘It is an apple,’said he, ‘if you intend to fling it at Vatinius.'”

A decision by which the edict in his favour did not much mend his situation, for Martial represents it as dangerous to come under this tree, because the cones, in his time, were of so great a size and weight, having been enlarged by cultivation through many ages.

Ray says he found the pine growing wild in Ravenna, and elsewhere in Italy, and that the kernels of the cones, having a very delicate flavour, were eaten at desserts, and were preferred even to almonds. But Miller asserts that it is not a native of that country, and says that it is still raised in gardens for its fruit.

Had any person but Ray told us that he had seen there whole woods of this tree in a natural state, it might have been suspected that it was confounded with the pineaster, as the leaves alone are not distinguishable from each other. The cones indeed are widely different. Linnaus, however, well aware of the alteration and improvement of fruits which have been long cultivated, does not choose to rely on the various appearances of the cones as a sufficient guide to specific distinctions, and therefore refers to the primordial leaves, which, he says, are ciliated in this tree, and plain or smooth in the Pinus sylvestris, and also in its variety the Pineaster.

The linear leaf of the whole genus of pines is admirably adapted to evade the force of wind on the mountains where they grow naturally. This singular construction of their foliage communicates a peculiar tone to the passing breezes, with which sounds the ancient poets were delighted as conveying ideas of refreshing coolness. Nor has it escaped the notice of an elegant and popular modern poet, who thus refers to it:

Where wandering volatile from kind to kind,

He wooed the several trees to give him one.
And first he sought the ash; the voice she lent
Fitfully, with a free and lashing change,
Flung here and there its sad uncertainties;
The aspen next; a fluttered frivolous twitter
Was her sole tribute; from the willow came,
So long as dainty summer dress’d her out,
A whispering sweetness, but her winter note
Was hissing, dry, and reedy. Lastly the pine
Did he solicit, and from her he drew
A voice so constant, soft, and lowly deep,
That there he rested, welcoming in her
A mild memorial of the ocean cave
Where he was born.                                                Henry Taylor.

The cones of the stone pine require four years to ripen. During the first season the cone attains one-third of its size. In the second it reaches its full size, hut remains green. In the third the scales usually become dry, change colour, and open. And in the fourth the winged seed escapes, and is carried to a distance by the winds.

The following fact will serve to prove that what has been said of the size of the cone of the stone pine is not fabulous. A friend of mine walking, some years ago, in the pinegrove of the Casino at Florence, saw some wood-cutters felling the beautiful trees which formed at once such a delightful ornament and shade in the suburbs of that city. On asking them the reason, they said it was done by order of the Grand Duke, lest the cones of the pines should fall on the heads of his children, who were taken there for air and recreation, and injure them.

That delicious tropical fruit, the pine-apple (Bromelia ananas), takes its name from the resemblance it bears to the cones of the stone pine. A form so elegant that the Grecian architects, whose profession required them to embellish their works with imitations of the most ornamental productions of Nature, selected this cone to crown the summits of their edifices, in consequence of which we see them on many of our modern buildings. Hogarth, in his Analysis, endeavours to explain why this shape is so pleasing to the eye. From the same principle of recurring to vegetable beauty, resulting from proportion, the Grecian columns imitated the trunks of trees.

For the opinion adopted by Vitruvius (lib. iv. c. 1), that the Doric column represented the robust body of a man, the Ionic that of the elegancy of a woman, and the Corinthian that of the superior delicacy of a slender maiden, is a fantastic conceit which would better have suited Ovid or Pliny. In like manner, the pillars in that singular style of building which has been called the Gothic and Saracenic order, and. whose origin has hitherto been sought with fruitless inquiry, were probably intended to resemble a grove of Arundo bambos, or bamboos, whose bodies were tied together in columns, and whose branches were interwoven and connected in the form which the ceilings of many of our cathedrals exhibit.

But to return to the stone pine of Italy. It is a tender tree, and never attains any size in this climate. Those in the gardens of Dropmore, where they were planted in considerable numbers by the late Lord Grenville, were probably injured by the roots being affected by severe frost, or by their penetrating into a gravelly soil. One of the oldest trees of this species is in the garden of the late Mrs. Ord, at Purser’s Cross, Fulham, now Lord Ravensworth’s.

Probably Mr. Lambert, in his book, “Genus Pinus,” gives some notices as to where other specimens of this tree are to be found. No doubt, however, but that it was in the rich collection of pines at Pain’s Hill, Cobham, but whether still existing there may be doubted. There is one now in a corner of a garden in Richmond Green, Surrey, where I have known it for a great many years, but it has never shown any very perceptible increase of growth. There are also two in an old nursery-ground in the Fulham Road, which I have known long ago, affording another proof of the extreme slowness of the growth of this tree. It is said to bear the smoke of towns better than most evergreens. The seeds ripen freely in this climate. They are sold in the streets of Rome and Naples (Pinacchio seeds), and are eaten at desserts, as we eat almonds, nuts, &c., in England. The Pine Wood of Ravenna is familiar to the readers of Dante and of Lord Byron.

Author: Edward Jesse.


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