It is found in the Pyrenees, Alps, Erzgebirge, Carpathians, northern Apennines and Balkan Peninsula mountains from (mostly) 1,000–2,200 m (3,281–7,218 ft), occasionally as low as 200 m (656 ft) in the north of the range in Germany and Poland, and as high as 2,700 m (8,858 ft) in the south of the range in Bulgaria and the Pyrenees.
There are two subspecies:
- Pinus mugo subsp. mugo in the east and south of the range (southern & eastern Alps, Balkan peninsula), a low, shrubby, often multi-stemmed plant to 3–6 m (10–20 ft) tall with symmetrical cones.
- Pinus mugo subsp. uncinata in the west and north of the range (Pyrenees northeast to Poland), a larger, usually single-stemmed tree to 20 m (66 ft) tall with asymmetrical cones (the scales are much thicker on one side of the cone than the other). The two subspecies intergrade extensively (hybrid subspecies rotundata) in the western Alps and northern Carpathians. Some botanists treat the western subspecies as a separate species, Pinus uncinata, others as only a variety, Pinus mugo var. rostrata. This subspecies in the Pyrenees marks the alpine tree line or timberline, the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing.
Both subspecies have similar foliage, with dark green leaves ("needles") in pairs, 3–7 cm long. The cones are nut-brown, 2.5-5.5 cm long, symmetrical, thin-scaled and matt texture in subsp. mugo, asymmetrical with thick scales on the upper side of the cone, thin on the lower side, and glossy, in subsp. uncinata.
An old name for the species Pinus montana is still occasionally seen, and a typographical error "mugho" (first made in a prominent 18th century encyclopedia) is still repeated surprisingly often.
The smaller P. mugo subsp. mugo, is used by homeowners and landscape architects for home security purposes. The needles deter unauthorised persons from entering private properties, and may prevent break-ins if planted under windows and near drainpipes.
A recent trend is the increase in use of the mugo pine in cooking. Buds and young cones are harvested from the wild in the spring and left to dry in the sun over the summer and into the fall. The cones and buds gradually drip syrup, which is then boiled down to a concentrate and combined with sugar to make pine syrup. Menus also use the terms "pinecone syrup" or "pine cone syrup" to refer to this ingredient.
Pinus mugo at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, USA
Pinus mugo 'Valley Cushion' at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
- "Pinus mugo (Mountain Pine)". BioLib. BioLib. 1999-2010. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species".
- "USDA GRIN Taxonomy".
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pinus mugo 'Mops'". Retrieved 27 May 2013.
- "Wild Mugolio Pine Syrup". Zingerman's Mail Order. Zingerman's Mail Order LLC. 2010. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
- "Wild Mugolio Pine Syrup". Cube Marketplace. Divine Pasta Company. 2008. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
- "Piccolo Restaurant - Minneapolis: Menu". Retrieved 15 July 2010.
- Colicchio, Tom (3 March 2009). "Tom Tuesday Dinner March 3, 2009" (PNG). Tom Tuesday Dinner. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
- Christensen, K. I. (1987). Taxonomic revision of the Pinus mugo complex and P. × rhaetica (P. mugo × sylvestris) (Pinaceae). Nordic J. Bot. 7: 383-408.
- Gymnosperm Database - Pinus mugo
- Arboretum de Villadebelle - photos of cones (scroll down page)