HOW THE SCOTS PINE STARTS A NEW COLONY

THE simplest type of heath country is likely to be pretty well known to most people. It is what would commonly be called open country; that is, there are few or no trees. The coarse sandy ground has a dense covering of low-growing tough, shrubby plants, all well equipped’to live on very low water-imports. In the extreme condition we shall find very few species of plants at all, though there may be complete cover to the soil by the common ling. When this is so, successful competition by other species is so difficult as to be next to impossible. Nevertheless, it is no uncommon thing to find

practically pure growths of the Scots pine under almost identical conditions of soil and climate, and the possible stages leading to this are of interest.

The fossil record suggests that the Scots pine was once a common tree in southern England, but two hundred years ago it was rather scarce. Clement Reid writing on the origin of the British flora says : ‘Pinus syhestris seems to have been abundant throughout Britain during part of the Neolithic Period, for its cones are abundant at the base of peatmosses and in ‘submerged forests.’ It afterwards disappeared from the south of England and only recently has been reintroduced.’* The seed of the pine is light and winged, and consequently any territory down-wind from an established group of seed-producing trees is certain to get well seeded.

The plants of the heath country provide very good protection for the pine seedlings and once they are started they can compete very successfully with other species. They are fast-growing and if there is no serious interference, such as a heath fire, they will thrive so as to form a real pine-forest. The shade created by the leaf-canopy is so great that there is little or no light at the forest-base and consequently no extensive ground-flora. Add to the absence of light the fact that the needle-like leaves of the pine are less subject to decay than those of broad-leaved trees such as oak and beech, and it will not be very surprising that the pine tends to get the territory all to itself.

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