Picture of Thomas Pennant

Thomas Pennant

places mentioned

Appendix I: Of Scotch Pines

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A P P E N D I X.




IT is generally believed that there are two kinds of fir trees, the produce of Scotland , viz. the red or resinous large trees, of a fine grain, and hard solid wood: the other, a white wooded fir with a much smaller proportion of resin in it, of a coarser grain, and a soft spongy nature, never comes to such a size, and much more liable to decay. At first appearance, this would readily denote two distinct species, but I am convinced that all the trees in Scotland , under the denomination of Scotch fir, are the same; and that the difference of the quality of the wood, and size of the trees, is is certainly owing to circumstances, such as the climate, situation, and soil they grow in. These finest fir trees, appear in the most mountainous parts of the Highlands of Scotland , in glens or on sides of hills generally lying to a Northerly aspect, and the soil of a hard gravelly consistence, being the natural produce of these places; the winged feeds are scattered in quantities by the winds, from the cones of the adjacent trees, which expand in April and May , with the heat of the fun; these seedlings when young, rise extremely close together, this makes them grow straight, and free from side branches of any size, to the height of 50 or 60 feet before they acquire the diameter of a foot: even in this progress to height, they are very slow, occasioned by the poorness of the foil, and the numbers on a small surface, which I may say makes them in a constant state of war for their scanty nourishment, the stronger and taller by degrees overtopping the weaker, and when the winds blow they last* against one another, this assists in beating off any horizontal branches, that might damage the timber with knots, as well as by degrees crushes the overtopped trees. In such state of hostility they continue struggling until the master trees acquire some space around, them; then they begin to shoot out in a more bushy manner at the top, gradually losing their spiral form, increasing afterwards more- in size of body then height, some acquiring four feet diameter, and. above sixty feet of height to the branches fit for the finest deal, board. The growth is still extremely slow, as is plainly proved by the smallness of the grain of the wood, which appears distinctly, in circles, from the centre to the bark. Upon cutting a tree overdose at the root, I can venture to point out the exact age, which in these old firs comes to an amazing number of years. I lately pitched up on a tree of two feet and a half diameter, as this is near the size of a planted fir of fifty years of age mentioned, and I counted exactly two hundred and fourteen circles or coats, which makes this natural fir above four times the age of the planted one. Now as to planted firs, these are raised first in dressed ground from the seed, where they stand two seasons or more, then are planted out in the ground they are to continue in at regular distances, have a clear circumference sound them for extending both roots and branches; the one gives too quick nourishment to the tree which moots out in luxuriant growths, and the other allows many of the branches to spread horizontally, spoiling the timber with knots; besides, this quick growth occasions these thick yearly circular coats of wood, which form a coarse grain, of a spongy soft nature. The juices never after ripen into a proportional quantity their resinous preservative balm: so that the plantations decay before the wood acquires age, at a valuable size, and the timber when used in work has neither strength, beauty, nor duration. I believe the climate has likewise a great share in forming the nature of the best wood, which I account for in the following manner. The most mountainous parts of the Highlands, particularly the Northerly hanging situations, where these fine fir trees are, have a much shorter time of vegetation than a more Southerly exposure, or the lower open countries, being shaded by high hills from the rays of the fun even at mid-day for months together, so that with regard to other vegetables nature visibly continues longer in a torpid state there than in other places of the same latitude. This dead state of nature for so long a time yearly appears to me necessary to form the strength and health of this particular species of timber. No doubt they may at first show a gratefulness for better soil and more fun by shooting out spontaneously, but if the plant or tree is so altered by this luxury that it cannot attain any degree of perfection fit for the purposes intended, the attempt certainly proves in vain.

From what is said above, it is not at all my intention to dissuade from planting Scotch fir, but to encourage those that have the proper soil and situation to do so, being of opinion that where these circumstances agree, and there, planting not in lines, but irregularly and thicker than common, the trees will come to be of equal size and value with the natural ones. In confidence of this, I have planted several millions on the sides of hills out of reach of seed from the natural firs.

Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland 1769 (London: Benjamin White, 1776)

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