Pinus caribaea (Caribbean pine)
Caribbean pine is an important timber tree, one variety of which is under threat from an introduced scale insect.
About this species
Caribbean pine is a keystone species (one that is essential for the diversity and organisation of an ecological community) in the species-rich pine forest ecosystem. It is the only pine native to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Caribbean pine is the national tree of the TCI where, sadly, the majority of the trees has been killed in recent years by an introduced scale insect. The TCI is one of the UK Overseas Territories.
Geography & Distribution
There are three recognised varieties of Caribbean pine, each of which has a distinct geographical distribution:
• Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis only occurs in the Bahaman archipelago, where it is found in the Bahamas (islands of Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama and New Providence) and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) (islands of Middle Caicos, North Caicos and Pine Cay).
• Pinus caribaea var. caribaea is found in western Cuba.
• Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis is native to Mexico, Belize, northern Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Caribbean pine in the Bahaman archipelago
Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis usually grows in small pockets of soil on limestone and can reach up to 25 m in height. Caribbean pine is adapted to survive natural fires that are essential for maintenance of this forest type. In the absence of fire, the undergrowth becomes overgrown and not enough light penetrates for pine seedlings to germinate. Caribbean pine provides shade, shelter and food for many other plants and animals. The Bahama parrot (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis) lives in these pine forests on Abaco and feeds on pine seeds. It is the only ground-nesting parrot in the Western hemisphere and the only one in the world adapted to live in an environment with frequent natural fires.
Pinus caribaea is a tree up to 45 m tall with a single, erect trunk. It has rough, scaly, grey-brown, fire-resistant bark that breaks into squarish plates. Needles (leaves) are light or dark green, usually 15–26 cm long, and bundled into fascicles (groups) of 2 or 3 (rarely up to 5) needles. Male and female cones (reproductive structures) occur on the same tree. Pollen-bearing cones (males) are cylindrical, 2–3 cm × 5–6 mm and pink or yellow, turning yellowish or reddish-brown. Seed cones are mostly in pairs or whorls and borne on long peduncles (stalks). Female cones take two years to mature and release winged seeds that are dispersed by the wind.
Threats & Conservation
Devastating destruction of TCI pine forests caused by the invasive pine tortoise scale insect (Image: M. A. Hamilton)
Pinus caribaea has been listed as of Least Concern (LC) at species level according to IUCN Red List criteria, but the varieties P. caribaea var. bahamensis and P. caribaea var. caribaea have been assessed as Vulnerable (VU). Large numbers of pine trees have been killed in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in recent years due to an infestation by an accidentally introduced exotic scale insect (Toumeyella parvicornis). In response to this threat, an ex-situ collection, a monitoring programme and an international pine-scale working group have been established through the TCI Caicos Pine Recovery Project. These projects hope to conserve Caribbean pine in the future. Kew’s involvement in this international collaboration is led by Martin Hamilton, coordinator of Kew’s UKOTs programme.
Other threats to Caribbean pine include hurricanes, clearing of vegetation for new building developments and uncontrolled fires started by people. Caribbean pine has been heavily exploited as a timber tree, particularly P. caribaea var. hondurensis, leading to its localised decline in some areas.
Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis occurs in protected areas including the Abaco National Park on Abaco, the Lucayan National Park and Rand Nature Centre on Grand Bahama, the Blue Hole National Park on Andros, and the Conch Bar Caves National Park on Middle Caicos.
Kew’s work on Caribbean pine in the TCI and the Bahamas
Michele Sanchez checking healthy young pine trees in a severely threatened TCI pine forest (Image: M. A. Hamilton)
Kew staff are working alongside Michele Sanchez, a Ph.D. student from Birkbeck College (University of London), to study the biogeography and genetics of the Caribbean pine in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and the Bahamas. Michele has undertaken several field trips to Caribbean pine forests to collect samples for DNA study and data on the location and ecology of the forests and to record differences among pine trees. Maps are being produced to show the size and location of modern forests and to track changes that have occurred since the 1960s. Different patterns of pollen and seed dispersal and some differences between populations on the Bahamas and the TCI have been detected. The results of Michele’s research will be available after her thesis is published in 2012.
Follow the UK Overseas Territories team blog for the latest project news, including work being carried out by Kew UKOTs staff, Imperial College MSc students, Jodrell Laboratory staff, and partners.
Caribbean pine is an important timber tree (particularly Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis) and has been widely planted as such. The wood is heavily resinous and used for building, boat decks, crates, plywood and pulp manufacture. Caribbean pine trees have been widely tapped for resin in Honduras, although this use is now less common.
Intensive logging, pulpwood and turpentine extraction and charcoal production occurred in the Bahamas during the first half of the 20th century. Wood is still extracted today for construction and boat-building but not on a commercial scale.
Millennium Seed Bank: Saving seeds
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
See Kew’s Seed Information Database for further information on Pinus caribaea.
Germination trials using Caribbean pine seeds collected by partners in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and sent to Kew are currently taking place in the Quarantine House at Kew. After being cleaned with hydrogen peroxide (to minimise problems with damping-off fungus, which has been a problem in TCI), pine seeds were sown in a mixture of sand, perlite and Kew mix number three (a coir-based medium) and kept in a growing chamber, where they were regularly monitored. The first seedlings appeared eight days after sowing. Currently, nearly 40 seedlings have been potted-up and moved out of the chamber. Information obtained from this trial and monitoring of the growth of the young plants will be reported and shared with partners in the future.
This species at Kew
Caribbean pine can be seen growing in the Temperate House at Kew.
Pressed and dried specimens of Pinus caribaea are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.
Specimens of the wood, cones, resin and fibre from Caribbean pine are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.
More about conifers
More about efforts to save TCI’s national tree
UKOT Conservation Forum project: Building capacity and awareness to save the national tree of the Turks and Caicos Islands
More about the pine rocklands
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Treasure flowers, originally from South Africa, have been in cultivation since the 19th century, but are now also invasive plants in some parts of the world.
- newly discovered
- around the world
- of use
- ground breaking
- garden plants
- english garden
Plants & Fungi blogs from Kew
25 Jan 2013
He may be a Seed Morphologist but Wolfgang Stuppy of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank discovers there is more to the snake gourd than just some strange fruit and eccentric seeds.