This cone-bearing tree can grow up to 40 metres tall. The mature tree is distinctive due to its long, bare, straight trunk topped by a rounded or flat-topped mass of foliage. The bark is reddish brown and forms flaky plates. The tree has stiff waxy needles growing in pairs from the twigs. The needles are between 5 and 7 centimetres long. The cones are small, egg-shaped woody structures that are green and resinous in their first year, later drying to produce the familiar mini-pineapple-shaped pinecones from which the seeds are dispersed. In common with other pines, they seal damaged areas on their trunks and branches by producing resin, a sticky, viscose secretion that protects the tree against entry by insects and fungal spores.
The Scots pine prefers light, sandy soils and lower altitudes. It can be found across Europe and Asia. In the north of its range, it grows from sea level up to 1,000 metres, while in the south of its range it is a high-altitude mountain tree, growing at altitudes of between 1,200 and 2,500 metres.