Trees of Morni: Chir Pine

Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii) a large Himalayan coniferous tree found in the lower altitudes, that can grow upto 150 feet high and has a tough, deeply fissured red-brown bark that protects the tree from forest fires.

Chir pine bark

The leaves are glossy green, slender needles that occur in clusters of three. The pine make a beautiful whistling sound as the wind blows through its needles.  Pine belts in Morni hills experience frequent forest fires in the dry season as the thick carpet of needles on the forest floor under the pines is highly combustible. The pine belts do not allow any other species to grow in the shade and even the ubiquitous lantana bush is unable to penetrate the carpet of pine needles. The fallen pine needles are gathered by the locals in winters and used for layering the floor for cattle.

The cones are green and ripen to a glossy chest-nut brown. Interestingly, the cones open and release the winged-seeds after being heated by forest fires. Thus the tree seems to be adapted to forest fires with the bark affording protection against the heat and the ripe cones actually benefitting from the heat for releasing the seeds.

The trees are tapped for resin that yields the turpentine oil that is primarily used as a solvent for paints. While such tapping is not visible anywhere in the Morni hills of Haryana, yet it seems to be in vogue in the adjoining area of Himachal Pradesh. The author spotted numerous Chir pines being tapped for resins in the Jagjit Nagar area of the Kasauli hills, with large portion of the bark rather mercilessly ripped off.  To the untrained eye it does not seem likely that the trees would survive the terrible damage to the bark for very long.

Chir pine resin harvesting at Jagjit Nagar
Chir pine resin harvest at Jagjit Nagar

The chir pine wood is not of good quality and its not a very popular source for timber.

The tree is named after William Roxburgh, the celebrated late 18th-early 19th century botanist of the East India Company who is called the Father of Indian Botany.

Chir pine at Morni

Chir pines are found in pockets in the higher hills. In the morni range a prominent pocket falls just before the turn for Barisher while driving towards Morni. Another pocket occurs near Chandrawal Kunj resort, Bhoj Balag. Tipra range also has some pockets of pines.

Pine belt near Morni-Barisher turn
Chir pine belt at Bhoj Balag