Pinus mugo var. pumilio
Dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo var. pumilio) is a dwarf, shrubby conifer native to the mountains of central Europe. It is a geographical variant that produces smaller, more compact plants. This helps it survive under enormous snow packs and avalanches. In ten years dwarf mountain pine reaches a height and width of just 2 m/6 ft
Dwarf mountain pine has green needles in bundles of two. They are rigid, slightly curved and stay on for five years or more. In winter, their tips sometimes become yellow-green. Dwarf pine’s small round cones have prickles on their scales and ripen in fall. When the cones and buds are harvested in spring and left to dry in the sun over the summer, they gradually drip syrup. The syrup is boiled down, combined with sugar, and sold as pine cone syrup. Delicious with pancakes and tea made from mountain pine’s needles.
But for the larvae (caterpillars) of the imperial moth (Eacles imperialis), this shrubby conifer’s needles are an essential - their food source. It doesn’t stop there though. Many birds rely on caterpillars to feed their young. Every link in the chain of life matters.
Mugo pine owes its discovery by the horticultural world to two unrelated events. First, mountaineering became popular in the mid-19th century. People were drawn to the Alps far from the polluted city centers where they worked. Not everyone took to climbing mountains but many fell in love with the plants of the high mountain meadows. By the 1880s, rock gardening had emerged as an enduring garden form.
The second event took place in Denmark and Norway. Coastal sand dunes were expanding during the late 19th century and whole villages had to be relocated. This was because of the deforestation that had occurred during past centuries. Mugo pine is able to colonize poor, infertile and sandy soil. It was planted to stabilize the dunes.
The pictures were taken in the Alpine Garden in winter.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones.