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Mother Trees of Pine Jungles

A little over twenty miles inside the beautiful pine-covered valley of Lehtrar, a jungle road abruptly moves upward and travels a dozen miles to reach lesser-known saintly shrine of “Panj-Peer” or five saints’ abode. Mid-way on this perilously aligned jungle road, and in a maze of unending hairpin bends, an amazingly dense Chir pine forest exists, largely intact due to steep and precipitous slopes, making logging and tree felling a daunting affair. It was in this scenic and somewhat mysterious-looking jungle, that I came across the oldest “Mother Tree”of Chir pine variety that I had ever seen(this was summers of 2008) in hilly jungles of northern Punjab spread across tehsils of Murree, Kotli Sattian and Kahuta.
Hilly jungles in northern Punjab region and Hazara were brought under scientific forest management soon after British India saw creation of Imperial Forest Service around 1860s. A unique system of managing these pine jungles, namely shelterwood system was introduced by British forest officers during last decades of 1800s. Under this system, mature Chir pine jungles were harvested for timber while leaving behind around ten mature and healthy trees in every few acres. These left-over trees – mother trees as these came to be known -had some crucial functions to perform which were central to lasting well-being of these priceless treasures from mother nature.
Since mother trees stood amid clearly felled jungle areas, spreading seeds for promoting natural regeneration was the prime purpose assigned to the mother trees. Large-scale felling would create huge chunks of vacant jungle land over which fresh Chir pine cones from mother trees, would scatter thousands of healthy seeds to ensure sustenance of jungle life. In a few years’ time, the areas with towering mother trees would have a thick carpet of young pine saplings which would grow vigorously in tall jungle trees due to profuse sunlight, allowed through big openings provided by mother trees.
But the central role of mother trees was not limited to providing seedlings and new growth alone; true to their motherly nature, these old guards would have many other roles to play in jungles including protection for young tree growth against terrifying jungles fires.
As needles and wood of Chir pine trees are full of highly inflammable resins, summer months are characterized by jungle fires – natural as well as manmade -in pine covered hills. To the people understanding nature’s sign language, these jungle fires are more than flames and fury. Each jungle fire has an advancing tongue – the most ruthless part – and expanding flanks, which typically move the fire along slopes. Controlling jungle fire is best possible, if “tongue” of jungle fire is “timely engaged” to prevent large scale damage to young trees.
Nearly always, the towering mother trees provide the final line of defense for halting frenzied advancement of jungle fire.
All advancing jungle fires love to ascend upward in hilly areas; and the tall mother trees happily embrace advance column of jungle fire which rip upward through their bole. It is a scary phenomenon to see mother trees of Chir pine hit by crackling jungle fire; bole of the pines burning in lofty flames. In this process of self-immolation, burning mother trees largely halt horizontal expansion of jungle fire through upward ascent and any large-scale damage to the surrounding, young, pine trees is curtailed.
The fact that despite dozens of natural jungles fires each summer, Chir pine jungles still manage to flourish is principally due to “self-less sacrifice” by old mother trees, which get scarred and burnt in jungle fires, but ensure survival of adjoining young tree saplings.Another vital role, the mother trees of pine variety perform in hilly jungles relates to their role a “sole torch bearer of light”.
For many people, living in deeper valleys, cut off from civilization, wooden splinters cut out from Chir pine mother trees provide, the only source of light during night hours. Since Chir pine wood is rich in combustible oils, a freshly cut wooden torch from mother trees burns profusely and provide night light to the wanderers across labyrinth of deep, dark hilly jungles.
And I can go on and on, counting the bounties of mother trees of Chir pine jungles. Shelter to countless varieties of birds as nest and roosting place; home for mothers of Rhesus monkeys – with their young, glued to their sides – as troupes of monkeys spend long hours, perched atop these mother trees. Pine cones provide nutritious food through seeds in cones and security and shelter from all impending dangers.
When I saw the oldest mother tree in pine jungles of Lehtrar, I also counted its age with a forester’s instrument – Pressler Borer; it was 109 years old in 2008. Last year, I happened to visit this jungle to meet my old friend, 108 years old Chir pine mother tree. I found it burnt and in the process of gradual death as lightening had struck it sometime back, causing a deep, un-ending gush all through the bole.
This sad incident highlights yet another sacrifice, usually assigned to mother trees by mother nature. Hilly jungles witness terrifying thunder storms, characterized by unending lightening. Being the tallest entities in the jungles, mother trees of Chir pine are mostly first to be struck by devastating lightening resulting in instant death of these mother trees.
In future, if you come across a tall, dying and dry pine tree carrying a deep gash running all through its length in hilly jungles of Murree or Hazara, do not forget to pay your homage to this dying stalwart of the wild; you would most likely be witnessing last rites in the eventful life of a mother tree. Providing millions of seeds for new growth; food and shelter to hundreds of birds and animals; lighting the dark jungle alleys for countless travelers; selflessly containing ravages of jungle fires – and courting heroic, romantic death, being struck by a heavenly flash of lightening after a life of 120 years – these are not mother trees for nothing.



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