Romania-Insider.com is publishing a series of articles about wildlife in Romania, zooming in on the wild animal and plant species in the Fagaras Mountains area. This editorial series is sponsored by the Foundation Conservation Carpathia.
A tree that most people know in theory (but not many know exactly what it is or what’s its story), the Swiss stone pine is a beautiful tree known for being a really slow grower, but also for its edible seeds, which are tasty and rich in nutrients. The wood of the stone pine is also extremely valuable, being used for carving and furniture, especially in the Swiss Alps or the Austrian Alps. Unfortunately, seriously affected by the absurd cuts, the stone pine has almost disappeared in Romania.
The Swiss stone pine (pinus cembra) grows in the highest forest belt of the Alps and the Carpathian Mountains. It is native to Europe, being found in countries such as Austria, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and Romania. It typically grows in the subalpine zone, at altitudes between 1,200 m and 2,300 m, being known as a slow-growing, but long-lived conifer. While it may take 30 years for the tree to reach 1.3 m, mature trees can live for several hundred years, being very stable.
The stone pine grows to mature heights of between 25 m and 35 m with a trunk up to 150 cm in diameter. Its leaves (needles) are in fascicles of five, with a deciduous sheath. They are stiff, colored dark green, 5 to 9 cm long. The cones, which contain the edible seeds, are 4 to 8 cm long. They are colored green-purple in their first year, turning brown at maturity.
The Swiss stone pine grows extremely slowly, and this makes it a weak competitor compared with other trees. This, added to other factors such as the absurd cutting and the bad forest management, led to a sad situation in Romania, where they are almost gone. For example, in case of clear cutting in the subalpine area followed by replanting, the very slow grower stone pine can’t cope with the fast pace at which the spruce is growing, and thus the spruce usually ends up taking over the entire area. Thus, the stone pine disappears from that area. As a result, overall in the Romanian forestry, this pine doesn’t play any role anymore, unfortunately.
The Swiss stone pine can still be found in the untouched forests of Romania, high up, close to the timberline, or in subalpine or even alpine virgin forests. On larger areas, they can be spotted in Fagaras, Parang and Retezat mountains, but they can also be found in other parts of the Carpathians, on smaller areas. Local NGO Foundation Conservation Carpathia plans to kick off a replanting programme next year.
The Swiss stone pine is widely utilized by human communities in the mountains, the wood being extremely valuable. The timber is of good quality and preferred for carvings, paneling and traditional furniture. The beautiful chalets in the Swiss Alps are usually made of stone pine, but beds and furniture made of this very aromatic smelling wood are also very popular within the Alpine region of Europe. This characteristic scent of the stone pine is usually familiar to people, with studies showing that exposure to a Swiss stone pine may improve sleep and help people relax. The wood is said to be antibacterial as well.
But there is more. This tree offers something that both humans and wildlife love – its seeds. They are easily extracted from the cone and are very tasty, being sold in European markets. Pine cones cut into slices are also used to flavor Schnapps, which is then sold as zirbenschnapps.
The pinus cembra are beautiful trees, very important from the ecological point of view, and also economically. They also have an important protective function in decreasing soil erosion and avalanches, their deep roots being quite resistant against wind or avalanches.
Conifersociety.org – Pinus cembra
A rboretum.harvard.edu – Pinus cembra: From the Alps to the Arboretum
Wikipedia – Pinus cembra
Christoph Promberger, Foundation Conservation Carpathia
Euforgen.org – Pinus cembra
Montaniarzi.ro – Zambrul, coniferul de 1000 de ani
Irina Marica, [email protected]
(photo source: Shutterstock)
This article is part of the “Nature in the Făgăraș Mountains” editorial series, currently sponsored by Foundation Conservation Carpathia.