Wood species

Smile, the special-smelling wood that soothes and "rests" the heart

Smile is a tree as special as its name, sounding archaic and poetic at the same time. It's a species that brings peace of mind, which our ancestors knew, using smile wood to make swings for children to sleep in, beds or to clad the walls of houses. Smilewood is one of the hardiest species, surviving even in winter at temperatures below -40°C. It also grows at high altitudes, above 2500 m, and is used to stabilise the soil and as a forest canopy to prevent avalanches. Although it is not an industrially important wood, being a protected species, it is a very interesting one to study.

smiley wood

King of the Alps

The smile is closely related to pin, belonging to the genus Pinus, scientific name Pinus cembra. In English you can find it under the name Swiss pine (Swiss pine), Swiss stone pine (Swiss stone pine) or just stone pine, Arolla pine, Austrian pine (Austrian pine) or European cedar (European cedar). In French it is stone pine, in Italian Swiss stone pine or stone pine, in Germanzirbelkiefer, zirbe or zirm, and the Swiss call it arve or arbe.

It grows in the alpine and subalpine areas of the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains and the Tatra massif, from 1200 m to 2900 m. It is a pine that grows only in Europe, mainly in south-western France, northern Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania. Here we find it in the Călimani, Parâng, Rodnei, Făgăraș and Retezat mountains, where it reaches over 2000 m. It likes light and water, it grows well as a single specimen, but it also grows together with pine or larița. Withstands temperature extremes from below -40°C to over +45°C.

Because it is so hardy it is frequently found in the Alps at high altitudes, above the limit where trees are usually found. Hence the name King of the Alps and the ability to withstand avalanches, heavy snow and high ozone concentrations.

Deep-rooted conifer that can live for over 1000 years

Smile grows up to 20-25 m tall, rarely taller, and 1.5-2 m in diameter. The deep rooted taproot gives it the strength to withstand high altitude winds. The trunk is covered with a grey-brown bark that darkens to scaly and fissured when mature. The crown is narrow and pyramidal until 50-60 years old, and after 100 years it becomes broader, rounded, slightly irregular and sometimes has several peaks. It is a long-lived tree and can reach over 1000 years.

The leaves are in the form of thin, three-edged needles, grouped in groups of 5, stiff, glossy, dark green, up to 10 cm long. Cones are 10 cm long, oval, upward-pointing, brownish-purple at first, brownish when mature. Inside are seeds that are around 5 cm long and unlike pine, have no wings. Spreading is done by birds and woodland creatures. Smile tree seeds are edible and are improperly called pine nuts.

The wild smile grows very slowly, reaching maturity after 50 years, sometimes even 80 years. However, species have also been developed that can be grown as ornamental plants in parks in harsher climates. They don't need such a long time to mature, bearing fruit after only 12 years. The wild is protected, and cutting it down is illegal. It has been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List since 2006. The expansion of ski resorts has not helped the species, which is endangered throughout Europe. Fortunately, afforestation programmes have been adopted that are restoring the smile's chances.

Smilewood - appearance and characteristics

The smile is a resinousThe wood has the characteristics of this type of wood, with no special designs or colours to personalise it, as is the case with the veneers. In cross-section through the trunk you can see the difference between the yellowish sapwood and the reddish brown heartwood, with a tinge of pink in the younger wood and more brown as it matures.

The fibre is not always straight and uniform due to growing conditions that sometimes lead to twisted fibre. Resiniferous channels are present, evenly distributed, and the resin odour is strong and specific. The difference between the annual rings is visible, the rings are narrow and the transition from early to late wood is not very abrupt. On the solid and veneer boards knots are visible.

Different growing conditions lead to very different densities of specimens, ranging from 370 kg/m³ to 560 kg/m³. Also because of the conditions, wood can grow twisted and its mechanical properties suffer. In general, it is a soft and light wood with low dimensional variation and moderate strengths. It dries quickly without significant cracking. It carves and turns easily. When finishing, the high resin content should be taken into account as it can cause problems.

smiley wood

smiley wood

A tree with many qualities that we enjoy in small measure

In the past wood was used extensively in Austria, Switzerland and Germany as firewood, the manufacture of furniture and in construction. Slow growth has led to it being replaced in many areas by larch, a tougher, faster-growing and straighter resinous tree. The development of ski resorts hasn't helped it much either, with clearing for pistes and cable car routes reaching high altitudes. Now the wood is used to a small extent, mainly by craftsmen, for carving (the Val Gardena area of Italy is famous), turning and for inlay.

Smilewood has, however, special qualities due to the resin and oils it contains. It is a calming wood, and it is known that people who sleep on a bed made of smiley wood sleep more peacefully. This was confirmed in 2003 by a study published by Joanneum Research Institute (Weiz, Austria) The study showed that the smell emanating from the wood reduces pulse rate, inducing deep sleep and neurovegetative relaxation. Relaxation during the night means lower heart rate during the day, which makes the heart "save" one hour of work per day (3500 beats). This also explains the calmer sleep of children in the wooden cradles.

smiley wood

Because it is now quite difficult to find furniture made of hickory or lumber with which to clad the walls, cushions filled with fine sawdust can be used. This way, anyone can enjoy a peaceful sleep. Relaxation can also be induced with oil extracted from the needles/leaves of the smiley. The scent released is fresh and gentle, woody, citrusy, balsamic, slightly floral. The scent can be defined as a mixture of pine, lemon, myrtle, vanilla and wood. The oil aids breathing and allows the body to relax and regenerate.

These oils also have an antibacterial effect on wood. Mould rarely forms on the surface, making it suitable for kitchen utensils or food storage boxes. Also thanks to the oil, the smile is resistant to insect attack. It has been found that moths do not occur in places where there is smockwood. A few hangers made of hickory in the cupboard will make moths disappear forever. If there are no hangers, the same effect can be achieved with a bag of smilewood shavings or a few twigs.

The seeds and cones are used in food. In the Alps the seeds are called pine nuts and are eaten like ground nuts. The cones are used to make distillates or liqueurs. It is also customary to flavour alcoholic drinks with slices of pine cone.

smiley wood

One of the most important uses of smudge is to stabilise the soil and create forest barriers to stop avalanches. In the very high areas of the Alps, the smile is truly king. A king that makes sure the rocks stay in place and keeps the snow from sliding down the slopes.

I hope you find the information interesting. We always welcome additions. And if you have any questions or queries, please leave them in the space below. I'm sure I'll answer them.

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.


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  • Interesting. I subscribed to the Wood Magazine newsletter for these articles you write about different varieties of trees.
    You said that the zambrus grows from 1200m upwards. What are the chances of it catching on if I want to plant it in my backyard in the Brasov area, altitude about 600m?
    Thank you

    • Thanks for following us.
      You stand a chance if you buy one of the controlled plantations. It's a species modified for park planting that adapts very well to low altitudes. It needs water and light, likes drained soils (sandy, stony), but thrives in lush ones and does well alone without other trees around. It grows faster than wild smiley, rots faster, but has the same calming, soothing properties. We've also found specialist sites selling smile saplings.

    • Oil can be found online, for example at emag. Plants can be found in nurseries (you can also find them on the net).
      Leftovers you should look for on Facebook profile groups - Woodworkers, Carpenters, Woodworking.


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