Indigenous Uses and Structure of Chir Pine Forest in Uttaranchal Himalaya, India

Chandra Prakash Kala[1]


Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii Sarg.) is one of the most useful tree species in the Himalayan region. I studied the various indigenous uses and the structure of chir pine forests in the Uttaranchal Himalaya, India. Field surveys were conducted in 50 villages of Uttaranchal to gather information on the indigenous uses of chir pine. The questionnaire that was used in data collection was modified on the spot following group discussions with the target groups, other villagers and local resource persons. For the assessment of chir pine availability in nature, at least 15 quadrats of 10m x 10m were laid randomly in each locality, and the number of individuals along with other dominant tree and shrub species were enumerated in each quadrat.

Out of many uses of chir pine, ten indigenous uses are prominent in Uttaranchal. The resin is one of the most important non-wood products obtained from chir pine. Besides resin, different plant parts of chir pine such as cones, trunk, stems, wood, leaves and bark are used by the indigenous community of the state. Chir pine is a subject of the folklore and mythology of indigenous cultures in Uttaranchal. Staying in the forests of chir pine is recommended for the treatment of asthma by local herbal healers. In Uttaranchal, there are three major communities of chir pine such as sal-pine, (Shorea robusta-Pinus roxburghii) pine pure stand and oak-pine (Quercus leucho-trichophora-Pinus roxburghii) communities. The communities of chir pine forests are the habitats of various types of edible mushrooms (e.g. Agaricus campestris, Cantharellus cibrosius, Collybia maculata, Morchella esculenta, and Sparassis crispa). Many other tree and shrub species grow inside pine forests (e.g. Rubus ellipticus, Fragaria vesca, Myrica esculenta, Berberis spp, Carissa carandus, Carissa opeca, etc.) and have multiple indigenous uses. The results of this study are discussed in the light of the commercialization of chir pine and conservation and management policies.


Forests provide a wealth of beneficial products, which have significantly enhanced the quality of life of human societies worldwide. Of the various types of forest vegetation, the coniferous forests have played an important role in human culture. They have been the subjects of various uses including the folklore and mythology. Many of the conifers have also served as religious symbols and have played a prominent role in art and various traditions. Pinus roxburghii commonly known as long-leaved pine or chir pine is one of the most important conifers in the Himalayan region (Tiwari, 1994), which moulds the life of various ethnic and other communities of the region.

Chir pine is a tall tree of about 55 m and over 100 cm dbh. Its bark becomes dark red-brown, thick, deeply and longitudinally fissured, scaly; winter buds brown, small, ovoid, and not resinous. Chir pine is distinguished from other pine species on the basis of its 3 needle shaped leaves per bundle, which are slender, flabellate-triangular in cross section. The seed cones in chir pine are shortly pedunculate, ovoid, 10-20 × 6-9 cm. The seeds of chir pine are 8-12 mm long with c 2.5 cm long wing, which mature during October-November. It is distributed in the mountainous areas between 600-2300 m elevation over Bhutan, North India, Kashmir, Nepal, Pakistan, Sikkim, and southern part of Tibet (Naithani, 1984; Tiwari, 1994). The Uttaranchal hills in the northern India are one of the best habitats of chir pine forests. In recent years, detailed ecological studies have been carried out on the chir pine forests in the Uttaranchal hills (e.g. Tiwari, 1994; Singh and Singh, 1992; Zobel et al., 2001). However, except few (e.g. Shiva, 1998) there is lacking of indepth studies on the indigenous uses of chir pine. The present paper attempts to document the various indigenous uses of chir pine, besides its forest structure and conservation status.


Study Area:

The present study was carried out in the newly created Himalayan state of Uttaranchal in India. The state consists of two regions i.e. Kumaon and Garhwal. The Uttaranchal spans over an area of 53,485 km2 and is inhabited by a population of 84,79,562 persons of which 78% fall under rural category. This study is based on fieldwork carried out in the chir pine forests between 600-2300 m elevation. The state is well known for their rich biodiversity, ethnic communities, traditional resource use pattern and indigenous knowledge systems. The state is also well known for the origin of various sacred rivers including the Ganga and various temples (e.g. Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri and Jageswhar). The vegetation of the district has been widely documented by Naithani (1984), Kala and Gaur (1982), Kala (1998), Gaur (1999), and Kala and Uniyal (1999). The state covers wide altitudinal range with diverse landscapes. This has resulted in greater climatic variations and as a result there are several micro-climatic zones everywhere. Even in a single slope down the gradient there are vast differences in climate (temperature, humidity, snowfall, wind, etc.), and so in vegetation patterns. Chir pine being the dominant tree species are well known plant and the local people have discovered the several uses of chir pine over the period of time.


For this study, field survey was conducted in a number of villages for gathering information on the indigenous uses of chir pine. The quantitative data were collected using a questionnaire in the second phase of fieldwork. The questionnaire that was used in data collection was modified on the spot following group discussions with the target groups, other villagers and local resource persons. About 50 villages were surveyed for gathering information on the indigenous uses and collection of chir pine products for commercial purpose. Using empirical and participatory field techniques viz., observation, interview and case study methods on the other hand the quantitative data were collected. Besides, for the assessment of chir pine availability in nature, in each region i.e. Garhwal and Kumaon, quadrats of 10x10 m were laid randomly over various localities. At least 15 quadrats were laid at each locality, and the number of individuals along with other dominant tree and shrub species were enumerated in each quadrat. In order to elicit specific knowledge of indigenous chir pine uses and methods, local resource persons were interviewed separately for this purpose. Qualitative information so gathered was verified by cross-examination with different cross section of the society.


There are several indigenous uses of pine, of which 10 uses are most prominent in Uttaranchal (Table 1). The most conifers exude resin if wounded and few exude resin spontaneously from branches and cones. Several genera of conifers produce resin in abundant quantities, which are harvested and used for various purposes. The resin is one of the most important non-wood products. Out of five pines occurring naturally in India, viz., Pinus roxburghii Sargent, Pinus wallichiana Jackson, Pinus gerardiana Wall., Pinus kesiya Royle ex Gord and Pinus armandi French, only Pinus roxburghii Sargent is tapped commercially for resin (CSIR, 1969). In Uttaranchal the tapping of resin was began in 1890 that was commercialised in 1896. It was extended to Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in 1940 and 1945 respectively (Singh and Asokan, 1984). The old method used for resin tapping was the faulty French "cup and lip" method, which was replaced by the "rill" method (Kaushal and Khosla, 1984; Chaudhari et al., 1988).

Table 1. Nature and frequency of major uses of chir pine in Uttaranchal

Major indigenous uses

Part used

Frequency of use

Quite frequently



1. Timber



2. Fuelwood

Wood, bark


3. Edible and source of oil



4. Religious purpose



5. Decoration



6. Treatment of asthma



7. Pandawa festival



8. Livestock bedding



9. Resin



10. Lighting

Resinous wood


The uses of chir pine as a timber and fuelwood are among few major indigenous uses of this species in Uttaranchal. The daily life of middle Himalayan human communities are revolved around the chir pine forests right from the birth. The major fuel is required for cooking is obtained from the chir pine. The livestock use to feed on the under story plant species inside the chir forest. The chir pine seeds are edible and source of edible oil extraction. Globally, approximately 29 species of Pinus produce seeds, which have been used as a food item, at least by indigenous tribal cultures (Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976). In Kumaon region, the needles like leaves of chir pine are used for livestock bedding mostly during rainy season to prevent livestock from contaminated water and so that from various diseases. The blacksmiths, those are basically come under the low caste communities, use bark of chir pine for melting metals and designing various kinds of utensils.

The small chips of resinous wood of chir pine was slashed those are called as chhilla in Garhwal. In past, when kerosene oil was not introduced in Uttaranchal the chhilla was used for lighting. At present, various shapes of twisted wood are used for decorative items. About 80% of the chir pine in Kumaon and Garhwal region is twisted pine and thus provided varieties of shapes. The cones of chir pine are generally collected for two purposes, collection of seed for reforestation and for decoration. Traditionally, the cones of chir pine have also been used as the firecrackers during the occasion of Dipawali, a festivals of lightings. Cones can also be used as a fire starter in fireplaces or crushed and moulded into presto-log shapes (Thomas and Schumann, 1992). In some areas, cones are made into curio items for sale to tourists. For example, in the foothills of the Uttaranchal Himalaya the cones of chir pine are fashioned into birds and sold in local markets. Perhaps the ultimate form of using pines in art is the ancient Japanese tradition of bonsai. Bonsai is a three dimensional living art form in which tree is subjected to special growing techniques and the application of principles of design to develop them into miniature objects d'art (Stowell, 1966). Many species of pines are popular plant materials for bonsai.

Chir pine has been a subject of the folklore and mythology of indigenous cultures in Uttaranchal. In Garhwal, there is a festival known as Pandaw, in which the local people celebrate the occasion with dance and songs and worship various deities and Gods. The festival continues for several days and on the closing ceremony a tree of chir pine is uprooted and brought to the village, which is adorned with various local fruits. Once the celebration is over the fruits are distributed among the audience, which are considered holy fruits. The twigs of chir pine are also used for religious purpose during marriage ceremony of Hindus. Besides, chir pine is used for the treatment of certain ailments. The traditional herbal healers prescribe the asthma patients to stay inside the chir pine forest.

A number of plants grow inside the pine forests are the source of valuable non-wood products, several of which are important in local and regional economies. Others are important traditional products. For example, various types of edible mushrooms (e.g. Agaricus campestris, Cantharellus cibrosius, Collybia maculata, Morchella esculenta, Polyporus sulphureus and Sparassis crispa) grow inside the chir pine forests (Table 2) along with varieties of lichens. The latter is a group of plants that are parasites of conifers. Apart from this, many wild animals inhabit inside the pine forests, which have been used traditionally for hunting, and beautiful furs. Many other tree and shrub species grow inside pine forests (e.g. Rubus ellipticus, Fragaria vesca, Myrica esculenta, Berberis spp, Carissa carandus, Carissa opeca, etc.) those have multiple indigenous uses.

Table 2: Edible mushrooms harvested from conifer forests in India


Forest Type and Location

Agaricus campestris

High elevation meadows in the Himalayas

Cantharellus cibrosius

Conifer forests (Himachal Pradesh)

Collybia maculata

Abies and Pinus forests

Morchella esculenta

Conifer forests (under snow cover)

Polyporus sulphureus

Conifer forests (Uttaranchal, Jammu and Kashmir)

Sparassis crispa

At base of various conifers

Source: Shiva, 1998.

In Uttaranchal, there are three major communities of chir pine such as sal-pine, (Shorea robusta-Pinus roxburghii) pine pure stand and oak-pine (Quercus leucho-trichophora-Pinus roxburghii) communities. The sal-pine community occurs at the foothills areas and the oak-pine community on the upper reaches of chir pine habitats. In the middle elevation range the chir pine forms the pure stands. The density of chir pine varies with forest types and localities (Table 3). There are many other species thriving inside the chir pine forest but in comparison to other temperate forests the undercanopy species are low in abundance in the chir pine forests.

Table 3: Structure of pine forest across the various localities in Kumaon and Garhwal regions of Uttaranchal


Density (per ha ± SE)


Under canopy shrub species





Rhus parviflora, Carrisa opeca, Woodfordia fruticosa, Lantana




Rubes ellipticus, Lantana




Rubes ellipticus




Berberis spp., Pyracantha crenulata




Rosa, Indigofera





Carrisa opeca, Colebrookia oppositifolia, Berberis, Lantana




Rhus parviflora, Berberis, Lantana




Rubes ellipticus, Carrisa opeca, Lantana




Berberis, Indigofera




Rhus parviflora, Carrisa opeca, Lantana


Humans encountered pines and other conifers in many places across the globe. In comparison to deciduous trees, which shed their leaves in fall, most conifers remain green and were re-assuring. Only evergreen oaks rated as high as pines with early human societies who worshiped pines as they worshiped other wonders of nature. Chir pine forms the community with oaks but the larger area in the study area was under monoculture community of chir pine forests. Initially, pines would have been worshiped for themselves. As human civilization advanced, nations were formed and temples built, humans continued to worship pines as one of most sacred trees (Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976).

The resin extracted from chir pine and other pines have been in use traditionally for various purposes across the world. The Hopi Indians, of American southwest, used resin to repair broken ceramic pottery (Lanner, 1981). In Nepal, the resin of Pinus roxburghii, known locally as Ahule sallo, which is used to relieve the symptoms of a cough. About two grams of resin and an equal amount of common salt are boiled in 250 -300 ml of water and drunk warm before bedtime for 2-4 days. In addition, the resin from Pinus wallichiana is used as a plaster for bone fractures. The resin is also mixed with an equal amount of butter and is warmed to make a paste. This ointment is applied to the affected parts regularly before bedtime to soften scar tissue (Bhattarai, 1992). In Uttaranchal, the resin of chir pine was applied to boils, heel cracks and on either side of the eye to reduce swelling (Singh et al., 1990).

Resin tapping has become an important industry in a number of developing countries where labour costs are low. In contrast, as labour in the developed countries has become more expensive and fewer workers are willing to undertake the jobs of tapping resulting the decline in resin production. Total worldwide production of rosin, which is made up of resin extracted from pine, is currently about 1.2 million tonnes annually. Of this total about 60 percent is gum rosin (Coppen and Hone, 1995). During the early 1960s, the United States and former USSR were leading producers of resin and several European countries (France, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Spain) were also major producers (Chaudhari, 1995). Presently, China and Indonesia are leading producers and only one European country, Portugal, is still regarded as a major producer. India has secured sixth position among the top ten-resin production countries across the world (Coppen and Hone, 1995).

The conservationists are more concerned on the damaging of pine forests due to large scale tapping of resins. However, if the tapping of resin is operated properly, which involve removal of bark only, tapping trees causes no damage to pines and they may be tapped for up to 20 years or more (Singh and Asokan, 1984). Even the more traditional methods of tapping which involve some removal of woody tissue may not affect tree survival and trees can be seen in the wild with old tapping scars that seem otherwise quite vigorous. The risk of damage is heightened if excessive wood tissue is removed (Coppen, 1995). To reduce the risk of damaging pine trees the local resin tapping enterprises should provide an incentive to not over-exploit pine plantations, which is a source of life supporting system.

As the cones of chir pine is used for decoration, which can be a flourishing business for indigenous communities. Besides United States, Europe is becoming a strong market for decorative cones. For cones and most botanical products, entrepreneurs have noted that the German market is about ten times that of the United States' market (Coppen and Hone, 1995). There are opportunities in developing countries with extensive conifer forests (e.g. Mexico and Central America or Eastern Europe) to help meet the demand for decorative cones.


I thank Dr. M.P. Singh, Director, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, India for providing logistic support. Dr. U. Dhar, Dr. P.P. Dhyani and Dr. K.S. Rao are thanked for encouragements. I thank Dr. Sunil Nautiyal and Dr. I.D. Bhatt for helping and Ms. Richa Kala for co-operation during the course of this study.


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[1] G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora- 263 643 (Uttaranchal), India. Email: cpkala@yahoo.co.uk