Common Name: Himalayan pine
The Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana) is an elegant tree. The specimen growing in the Heritage Rose Garden has branches arching gracefully over the path and, underneath it, an open space so you can look up and see the interior of the tree, with its crisscross of slender branches. Found at high altitudes in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, India and southwest China, the Himalayan pine can grow to over 160 feet high: its silky needles, in bundles of five, grow up to seven inches and its slim cones can be over 12 inches long.
Pinus wallichiana is named after Dr. Nathanial Wallich who was born in Denmark, in 1786. In 1807, he became Surgeon to the Danish settlement in Serampore, India. Soon after his arrival, the settlement was seized by the British and Dr. Wallich was imprisoned. Two years later, he was released by the British because they wanted to make use of his botanical knowledge. By 1817, he was Superintendent of the East India Company’s Botanical Garden in Calcutta and during his long career there, he catalogued over 20,000 specimens, published 2 major books and went on plant-hunting expeditions. When plant hunters passed through Calcutta on their way back from the Himalayas, Dr. Wallich prepared their specimens for shipment to other countries. He developed a successful method of preserving seeds by packing them in brown sugar.
The Himalayan pine is both ornamental and useful. Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are tapped for their sap to make maple syrup and, in the same way, Himalayan pines are tapped for their resin, which is distilled to produce high-quality turpentine. When turpentine is removed from distilled resin, what remains is rosin, an ingredient in such products as varnishes, adhesives, laser printing paper, medicines, foods and chewing gum.
Rosin is used by musicians who play stringed instruments; they rub a block of solid rosin on their bows to add friction, which improves the tone. Flamenco and ballet dancers, weight lifters and boxers rub powdered rosin on their shoes to increase their grip on the floor. To improve their grip on the bars, gymnasts may rub powdered rosin on their hands to make them sticky – though some prefer to use honey, molasses, Lyle's Golden Syrup or even melted gummy candies.
It is 188 years since Dr. Wallich sent the first seeds of the Himalayan pine from India to England. The Wallich collection is housed in a separate herbarium at Kew and five of the thirty-six plants named after him are growing in our garden.
The Himalayan pine is also featured as the tree of the month for December, 2017.
Note: In January, 2022 the Himalayan Pine near the Stone Garden fell over during a series of winter storms, and the remains of a bird were found underneath. See Garden Story.
Text and photos by Susan Mawhood.
Fallen tree photos by Hughie Jones
Useful Link: Info from World Agroforestry Centre