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They cover about three-quarters of Abaco so we sometimes take them for granted and forget they, too, are island plants. The Caribbean pine (Pinus caribae) is often called Abaco pine on the island, just as the Bahama parrot is referred to as the Abaco parrot.
Abaco is one of four islands of The Bahamas with stands of Caribbean pine, the others being Grand Bahama, Andros and New Providence. For some reason the other islands are pine-less. There used to be some on the Berry Islands and they exist quite happily in the Caicos Islands, but nobody is quite sure why they are restricted to these areas.
We sometimes regret the burning of the pine forest but, in fact, the forest would die out without regular fires. True, juvenile trees are often killed; the remaining adults benefit from the destruction of undergrowth around them. Were the Abaco pine forests to be completely fire-free for a few decades they would die out and be replaced by broad-leaf coppice land.
The Caribbean pine is an enormously valuable tree and has been planted in other parts of the world for its lumber, pulpwood, turpentine and resins. Several lumber mills have been set up on Abaco during this century, the most famous being Wilson City, established in 1905. There is now little or no virgin forest on Abaco, the present trees being secondary or tertiary growth.
Following flooding from Hurricane Betsy and the invasion of a pine beetle, much of south Abaco's forest was wiped out in the late sixties. The forest has now returned but consists of much smaller trees than north Abaco.
The Caribbean pine is fast growing and is an undemanding tree. One condition it cannot tolerate is standing water. The swampy areas to the west of the SC Bootle Highway between Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay clearly show hammock land containing stands of pine surrounded by seasonal water.
It may very well happen that when the next cutting of the Caribbean pine on Abaco becomes viable, The Bahamas will be able to harvest and process its trees without the involvement of multinational conglomerates. It's a ripening resource and its time will come again.
How to use the Caribbean pine right now? The pine needles make an excellent, slow-to-break-down mulch around the base of fruit trees and such. The pines make excellent Christmas decorations. A shaving from the subterranean root makes an excellent fire lighter though not, of course, for barbecues. A lump of resin from a wounded tree can be placed in the corner of a linen drawer to give you fresh pine scent for months.
It is recognised that those who live surrounded by pine barrens exist in cooler, moister conditions than coastal dwellers. The moisture exuded from the pines promotes regular morning mists and cool, nippy evenings.
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