October 27, 2009

Snoubar Season; The Umbrella Pine

A botanical post today.
Last weekend was spent in the mountains among the umbrella pines (Pinus pinea). Although Lebanon is known for its cedar tree (it’s the one in the flag), I find the umbrella pine much more significant for the country. You see them everywhere (well, there where there are trees left). It’s a tree common to the Mediterranean area.
A man in the tree hits the cones out, and prunes the branches. On the ground they gather them in bags. The cones are closed when harvested. Some time in the sun and they'll open automatically.

There’s no forestry service in Lebanon (or none that I know of), yet the umbrella pines you see in the mountains are in general well trimmed. As I was wondering who’s taking care of these trees, I ran into these guys: the pine nut pickers.
Pine nuts are popular in Lebanon. You eat them with rice, you eat them with salad, and my favorite is to mix them with ‘kousbara’ (coriander) and garlic, and eat them with a dish called ‘shisbarak’. I buy them in little bags in the supermarket, but the hardcore users by them by the kilo. Exactly for how much seems to depend on the region, or your contacts. A colleague of mine buys them for $30 a kilo, another person said he paid $40 a kilo.
They burn the underbrush so they can find the cones they drop down.

From Land and People, I lifted this bit: ‘In Lebanon it only grows on the red sandy soils of the mountain, soils formed on a geological strata called the Basal Cretaceous. Unlike the vast majority of all other geological formations of Lebanon, this one is not calcareous, and it provides the neutral pH necessary for the growth and survival of pine seedlings. The people of the mountains quickly realized the economic potential of the snawbar pine, and they planted it wherever they found red sandy soils, and where there is enough rainfall to allow trees to grow. The snawbar pine forest almost perfectly match the patches of red sandy soils, and their dense and lush growth makes them look like turf carpets covering the slopes of Mount Lebanon. They're found in the Metn, in the Gharb (Aley) in the Shuf, and in one of the biggest forests is in the south, Bkassine near Jezzine.’ More on this here.

A pine forest, with the 'cutters' in the tree, and the 'pickers' on the ground.

It seems the government lifted import tariffs on pine nuts, allowing cheap imports from Turkey and China to flood the market. Which is a pity, because it will endanger the pine trees, and they have a multi-purpose in Lebanon. The cones are harvested for their nuts. Because harvesters need to be able to reach them, they ‘cultivate’ the forest; they take away small bushes, and trim the undergrowth of the trees, which makes them less prone to forest fires. The pine cones are used as fire wood, and the needles as well. Their roots keep soil together, limiting erosion in areas where they grow.

Well, lots of good stuff from the pine trees.


Anonymous said...

an intelligent post...

angie nader said...

i really enjoyed this post...its my new thing i learned today :)

kamagra said...

what a strange fruit, I wonder if tastes good or is just my imagination!