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Black pine

This must be Kew's unluckiest tree. It has been struck by lightning twice and now has a lightning conductor, just in case. In the early 1900s a light aircraft crashed into the top of it, taking out the crown.

Black pine bark

About Kew's black pine trees

The area between Kew's black pine and the Orangery was planted 250 year ago as Kew's first Pinetum. The black pine was added after being brought to Kew as a six-inch seedling from the south of France in 1814 by R. A Salisbury, one of Kew's botanists. It was thought to be the oldest specimen in the country.

Take a closer look

  • The needles of this tree show it to be a Corsican black pine – they are slimmer (around 1 mm) and flexible, whereas the Austrian subspecies has rigid, thicker needles closer to 2 mm wide.
  • Lightning strikes have left their marks on this tree – you can still see evidence of scarring on the main trunk. Look up and you should also be able to see the lightning conductor that will prevent this sort of damage happening again.

Tree biology

The European black pine, Pinus nigra, has a number of subspecies, with the Corsican pine (Pinus nigra subspecies laricio) and the Austrian pine (Pinus nigra subspecies nigra) being two of the most common imported pines now in Britain. This one is a Corsican pine, with slimmer, shorter-lived needles. It is also less cold-tolerant than the Austrian subspecies.

Culitvation and uses

The popularity of this fast growing tree for timber in the UK has declined due to a fungus causing red band needle blight. The rate of growth gives rougher, softer timber than, say, Scots pine, and the wood is mostly used for general building or plywood.

It is a popular ornamental tree in Europe and the USA. In New Zealand however, it is seen as an invasive pest because valued native tussock grassland habitats are changed and lost where these pines take hold.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Pinus nigra
  • Family: Pinaceae
  • Place of origin: Corsica and southern Italy, this is one of many conifers brought to the UK as a timber species.
  • Conservation status: Least Concern. This tree is planted widely for timber and ornament. Thetford Forest, mostly black pine, is the UK's largest artificial pine forest.
  • Date planted: 1814
  • Height: 30 m