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Tree in a campground, Champex, Switzerland [Réjean Drouin, 2017.07].


P. cembra (dark green) and Larix decidua (light green) in a mountain valley, 1200-1500 m elevation, along the Tour du Mont Blanc, France. Each species primarily forms pure stands, with cembra prevalent in rocky areas and decidua prevalent on deeper soils. Note avalanche tracks [Réjean Drouin, 2017.07].


P. cembra and Larix decidua along the Tour du Mont Blanc, France [Réjean Drouin, 2017.07].


Cones, one of which has been gleaned by animal activity; collected along the Tour du Mont Blanc, France [Réjean Drouin, 2017.07].


Mixed, open forest of P. cembra (dark green) and Larix decidua (light green) in a mountain valley, ca. 1200 m elevation, along the Tour du Mont Blanc, France [Réjean Drouin, 2017.07].


Range map.


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Conservation status

Pinus cembra

Linnaeus 1753, p. 1000

Common names

Arolla, Swiss, or Swiss stone pine; pin cembro [French]; Zirbelkiefer [German].

Taxonomic notes


This is a white pine (subgenus Strobus), closely related to P. sibirica. Some authors combine the two as P. cembra s.l. One of the five pines described by Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum (the others were P. pinea, P. strobus, P. sylvestris, and P. taeda; he also identified 5 other pines, since segregated to other genera).


Evergreen trees to 25(-35) m tall and 150 cm dbh. Crown narrow-pyramidal in youth, with age developing an open, flattened crown; at timberline, may form krummholz. Bark grey-brown, darkening and becoming scaly, fissured with age. Shoots in first year covered with dense orange pubescence, in the second year turning brown to brown-black but remaining pubescent (unlike shoots of the similar species Pinus flexilis). Leaves in fascicles of 5, stiff, dark green, 5-9 cm long, facicle sheaths early deciduous. Foliar buds gray-brown, ovate, acute, 6-13 mm long, resinous. Pollen cones cylindrical, terminal, purple. Seed cones maturing in third year, terminal, ovoid, 4-8 cm long, on short peduncles, green-purple in first year, turning brown as they mature.

The very similar species P. sibirica differs in having leaves with 3, rather than 2 resin canals, and slightly larger cones.

Distribution and Ecology

Europe: Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine (Conifer Specialist Group 1998). Grows only in the subalpine zone, at elevations of (1,200-)1,500-2,200(-2,300) m in the Alps and portions of the Carpathian Mountains, forming mixed and pure stands (Ulber et al. 2004). "Owing to its slow growth, P. cembra is a weak competitor compared with other trees. However, it is better adapted to the harsh upper subalpine climate conditions than any other European tree species. Consequently, it can compete in mixed stands where the performance of the other subalpine trees (mainly Picea abies and Larix decidua) is reduced and establish pure stands above their growth limit" (Ulber et al. 2004). It is also commonly found with Pinus mugo.

Hardy to Zone 1 (cold hardiness limit below -45.6°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001, variety not specified), which makes it one of the most cold-hardy trees known.

Big tree


Maximum ages of 500 to 1000 years are reported, without supporting data (Ulber et al. 2004).


A wide variety of studies have been done, as is often the case when a long-lived pine occurs near major dendrochronological research centers. Examples include reconstruction of past timberlines, investigation of carbon dioxide fertilization effects, and an array of dendroclimatic, and dendroecological studies. This is the principal species in "an absolutely dated tree-ring width chronology covering continuously 9111 years (7109 BC to AD 2002). It is the longest high mountain chronology in the world to date. The chronology is based on samples of the species Pinus cembra L., Larix decidua Mill. and Picea abies [L.] Karst., respectively, from high elevation sites in the European Alps" (Nicolussi et al. 2009).


This pine is loved by both humans and wildlife for its seeds, which are easily extracted from the cone, highly nutritious, and very tasty.



The seeds are a principal food source for the nutcracker, Nucifraga caryocatactes, which in turn is the principal agent for dispersal of the pine's seeds. This mutualistic relationship between pines and nutcrackers is found in a variety of arctic and alpine pine species, as detailed by Lanner (1996).


Conifer Specialist Group. 1998. Pinus cembra. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species., accessed 2009.01.23.

Nicolussi, K., M. Kaufmann, Thomas M. Melvin, J. van der Plicht, P. Schieling, and A. Thurner. 2009. A 9111 year long conifer tree-ring chronology for the European Alps: a base for environmental and climatic investigations. The Holocene 19(6):909-920., accessed 2010.10.15.

Ulber, M., F. Gugerli and G. Bozic. 2004. EUFORGEN Technical Guidelines for genetic conservation and use for Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra). International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy. 6 pages. Available:, accessed 2009.01.23 (now defunct). Highly informative.

See also

Gugerli, F., M. Anzidei, A. Madaghiele, U. Büchler, C. Sperisen, J. Senn and G.G. Vendramin. 2001. Chloroplast microsatellites and mitochondrial nad1 intron 2 sequences indicate phylogeographic relationship of Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra), Siberian stone pine (P. sibirica), and Siberian dwarf pine (P. pumila). Molecular Ecology 10:1489-1497.

Photographs and species account at, accessed 2009.05.02.

Last Modified 2017-08-10