(Not a Photography Article!)
Pines grow wherever they find a place in my region. After spending a lot of time with villagers and foresters, I have understood that Pines are both loved and hated at the same time, by most of the people I know.
(Sunset behind the pines)
They tend to grow tall and majestic. Pines are one of the most beautiful trees here. Their long thin needles and sought-after cones, they truly are a sight to behold. Forests in this region seem incomplete when pines are not there.
Yes, they do shed a lot of needles and these needles turn the soil acidic. Nothing seems to grow underneath, or that’s what the people think. But, Rhododendrons seem to have a deep love affair with pines. They grow wherever there are pines. Azaleas are also similar to Rhododendrons when it comes to love for pines. In fact there are a whole lot of acidic soil loving trees that grow well along with pines.
(Rhododendrons blossoming in a Pine Forest)
Dried pine-needles are rich in oil and so when forest fires happen, these forests burn very very fast. A mad solution to this that people have found is to cut down these trees, without realizing that it is people in the first place who cause such forest fires. A carelessly thrown match or cigarette is enough to burn the whole forest down. Some say that even glass bottles can start a fire, though I doubt it. Quite commonly, people themselves light a fire and attribute it to nature when it goes out of control. They say that a bolt of lightning started it. No, my dear, a lightning strike may burn down a tree but it won’t start a forest fire, definitely not in the rainy season when the lightning strikes usually happen. Some say that stones fall down and they spark and start a fire. No, once again a big No. They fall down as a result of fire when the roots holding them die down due to fire and not the reverse. Forest fires don’t happen due to falling rocks in pine forests. Please leave these beautiful pines alone. Don’t blame them for forest fires.
It is the failure of fire control and management strategies and not an abundance of pine trees that is to blame for fires. Recently, I read that some foresters in a different region are promoting the plantation of pines and harvesting their resin using a borehole method but here the blame is blatantly put on pines and a reason provided to chop them down.
Yes, pines and the fallen pine needles are quite prone to forest fires…. fires that are almost always caused by humans.
(Forest Fires – Pines are not the culprit, man is! Do read this – Forest Fire)
Pine trees have very deep roots and they tend to grow even in areas where there is scarce water. The top part of the soil is dry, but the pines with their deep roots can survive. They bind the soil well.
Actually, the pines started off along with other conifers in high altitudes. They needed lots and lots of rain to survive. The leaves were made by nature in a manner that they could withstand chilled weather, lots of rain and snow. However, after a few million years, they developed survival skills and now with their deep roots, these are able to grow in otherwise dry regions too.
Do the pines reduce rains or dry out the grounds?
One factor that is needed for good rains is the moisture that leaves perspire out. Pines have thin leaves (the needles) and so they do not perspire as much as broad-leaved oaks. So the rains in forests of exclusive pines are less. But then, these conifers release a chemical (terpenes) in the air that causes the moisture to precipitate… rain! So, if you live in the hills and are worried about lack of rains, plant more broad-leaved trees between the pines and wait for the magic to happen. Pines along with other broad-leaved trees make the forest a magnet for rains.
And yes, their roots grow deep down and the pines do seem to dry out the soils. The deciduous trees on the other hand seem to bring the water to upper soil levels.
What I feel, the right way is, to let the forest grow undisturbed. A mix of deciduous trees with pines scattered in between with its companion trees also in the vicinity… that would be wonderful. The water will evaporate from broadleaf trees and terpenes will get released from pines, and together they will create the magic needed for an ample amount of precipitation. Such a mix will also prevent the water table from falling.
(A beautiful untouched forest of conifers and deciduous trees)
A friend of mine pointed out that wherever he has seen pines, they are basically just pines and nothing else. There are three reasons for this:
First, as I mentioned earlier, pines and many other conifers have deep roots and can grow where other deciduous trees can’t. It’s easy to explain Mangroves in Sundarbans or even tall Cacti in Arizona, US. The excessive water in Sundarbans or dry climate in Arizona is easily seen and felt. When it comes to pines on the hills, it’s hard for us to visualize how deep the water might be in the soil and how deep the roots might be.
Second is the vicious cycle started by humans – the poor oaks and other deciduous trees are mercilessly pruned in the name of fodder and later felled for firewood. Pines are left untouched. Cattle don’t seem to like their oily needles. The pine seeds also take root very fast and within no time take advantage of reduction in other foliage and start to rule the forest. Later, all that stands is the Pines in these forests. However, sadly, not for long. Soon, they will be blamed for everything and chopped down. The wood, legally ‘smuggled’ for use in houses!
The third is the planting drive that took place a few decades back. Many of the mono-culture forests with only pines are those forests that were planted some decades back in the hope of processing bio-diesel. Those are not natural forests. I am totally against those mono-culture forests. That is not how forests grow. Also, due the absence of broad leaf trees, the rainfall also diminishes in such forests.
Fourth and the last reason that comes to my mind is that yes, pine does try to inhibit the growth of some things around itself, in the same manner as rhododendrons, bottle brush, walnuts, and hundreds of other trees and plants. It’s a competitive world and they would have developed this over a few million years. The effect is very minimal to make any actual effect in the manner that we see around us. All the pine ‘mono-cultures’ around us are due to the first three factors.
If you have been to our place, then next time you are driving by, do slow down in the Dhari-Dhanachuli region. Stare into the dense forests and witness how in a natural forest pines grow mixed with rhododendrons and various other trees including oaks too. Though, I am not sure how long they will remain so, with the indifference people have towards these forests.
(A creek flows through a pine forest)
Sometimes, I feel, there is a long-standing conspiracy, by manipulating feelings towards pines. People don’t feel the guilt while chopping down pines. Being handed down from one generation to another, this conspiracy has wiped the brains of the masses. Out of a hundred people living in the hills, just one or two will support the pines and others are ready to chop it down. It does come of use in the houses everywhere, from flooring to roofs, from window frames to furniture, and even as firewood!
Chipko movement? Well, most of those people who started that are dead and so are their ideas. Sadly, though it started from this part of the globe, the people are now oblivious to when trees are cut down, especially when they happen to be pines.
Did you know that pine trees are extremely useful in medicine too? The gum from the tree is useful in oral ulcers, cuts and bruises of the skin, skin infections.
Walking in the pine forests is also good for breathing problems. A long time ago, when medicine was not much advanced, foresters and observant people identified this and as a result, a lot of sanatoriums were built in the regions populated with these conifers. The terpenes that these conifers release are beneficial for health.
The needles can be used to create fuel, building material, and even soil enrichment products.
The turpentine oil comes from pines.
Yes, these trees also burn fast and make good fire starters, but I recommend buying firewood from sustainable plantations done for this purpose rather than going for the nearest pine tree.
Pine cones look good in any home. And, come Christmas, these trees can be decorated right where they stand. No need to bring them inside.
Their roots hold the soil also very well. I am yet to see serious landslides in pine-forests. They are actually good when it comes to binding soil.
The pines are an integral part of the ecosystem. The seeds from pine cones are highly sought after by squirrels and birds. Soft wood is easy to dig into by wood-peckers. Various insects, including the solitary living bees, also love making their homes in the bark of the tree. The needles that fall down provide a nice cover for various insects on the ground and act as a mulch for young trees that are yet to grow up to such majestic heights.
… and the smell. That heavenly smell of moist pine needles on earth, with a mix of that smell from the tree-gum, the crisp cool mountain breeze, and an occasional mix of sweet smells from Acacias and wild Apricot blossoms! Just a short walk while inhaling deeply to enjoy each and every moment in the forest, is enough to brighten up the moods and fill up with energy. And if it starts to drizzle, just stand under a pine tree. You’ll be surprised at how well it can protect you from drizzle compared to many other trees.
What should people or authorities do for forests having only pines (monoculture)?
Chopping down pines is not the right way forward. It leaves the ground exposed. Such a ground is prone to compaction of soil or even soil erosion. Shrubs and bushes may find their way on such a ground and reforestation may take time.
I always recommend planting more and more companion trees like Rhododendrons to begin with, then slowly introducing some more local deciduous trees. Follow Miyawaki’s methods and do a close plantation if needed. Let the forest grow for a decade or so. Do not disturb it. No humans or cattle should be allowed in. I am sure once a dense forest starts to flourish, the monocultures of pine will no longer be such a big concern.
Me? I love pines as much as any other tree. Yes, they do seem to grow everywhere and very fast, but they are beautiful and they are useful. My garden has a few of these and will always have them.