Sunday, January 17, 2016

In Praise (Or Not) Of The Pine Tree

It might be difficult - you would think - to take a dislike to a tree. It might also be difficult to think that university researchers would spend their time (and presumably someone's money) in studying such a dislike. But if you happen to be Mallorcan or happened to have been part of the education and citizenship department at the university in Palma, then it is less difficult to understand.

The pine tree. In a positive sense, it has lent its name to hotels, such as Sis Pins in Puerto Pollensa, Alcudia Pins in not-Alcudia, i.e. Playa de Muro; it was the subject of one of Mallorca's best-known poems - "El Pi de Formentor" (Miquel Costa i Llobera). It is touristically emblematic, as with the pinewalk of Puerto Pollensa, which probably vies with other emblematic sites on the island, such as the horse promontory of Cala San Vicente or Sa Foradada in Deya, as the most photographed of all. It gets chopped down, stripped, covered in soap, topped with a cock and climbed up during Pollensa's Sant Antoni fiestas, which might appear to be like taking the pee, but most definitely is not: the pollencin devotion to the pine in mid-January borders on the spiritual, as well as the alcoholic.

You'd think, therefore, that it was owed a bit more respect. Not so. Research findings that were issued some five years ago revealed that is disliked for being harmful to health, for causing forest fires, for preventing anything else growing, for the processionary caterpillar and for being ... foreign. Goodness, can xenophobia extends to trees? It would seem so, though where this leaves attitudes towards palm trees (which with one minor exception are all non-native), one isn't quite sure. And they, palm trees, are similarly susceptible to destructive forces, as we all too well know.

To what extent that the pine is a true native of Mallorca is probably irrelevant. It has been around for that long that it has gone native. Two species - the aleppo and the stone - are certainly of Mediterranean origin: the stone from the mainland of Spain. This latter tree is the one which gives the edible pine nuts, popular both in local cuisine and as a "nibble".

The tree's function as a resource is only grudgingly acknowledged, despite the fact that it has been - and is - a prime source of wood. It proliferates to such an extent that it constitutes around 80% of mountainous forest. Yet some would like to see it eliminated, something which must cause conservationists to have fits. Perhaps more than anything though, the pine is seen as being dirty, a view with which one can have some sympathy. Get some strong winds and rain, and down come the needles in great abundance. They cover the streets and gardens and gather on top of drains to the extent that they prevent water flushing away, thus causing flooding. The town halls, in that they do spend taxpayers' money wisely on street-cleaning, are mainly engaged in being needled by pines and clearing the gutters.

The negative attitudes towards the pine are such that the university researchers called for an educative process to correct erroneous views and misapprehensions. Everyone needed to learn to love the pine, to hug one daily, the only problem with this being that a trail of caterpillars might be meandering towards you while you are in the process of hugging.

Whether this five-year-old research had any impact is hard to say. One isn't aware of there having been any educative campaigns, but since then the pine has managed to assume some political significance. There is a party named after it - El Pi - which even has a sort of pine as its logo. However, might the fact that El Pi hasn't been scooping up places in the Balearic parliament have something to do with this apparent latent dislike of the pine that is lurking in the Mallorcan subconscious?

So, was this research worth the effort? The leader of El Pi, Jaume Font, clearly paid it little attention. But then research is often worthy for simply being research. As with figs. The fig tree doesn't attract the sort of resentment that the pine apparently does. And what grows on it is delicious. But were you were aware of the little-known world of fig reproduction? If you were, then to your rescue comes a book which deals with fig sexuality, research that has been partly sponsored by the regional agriculture ministry. We all love a fig, and now we know about its love life as well. Which doesn't help the poor old pine though. Still, for pine lovers, admiration for the tree will be at its greatest today. In Puerto Pollensa and Pollensa. The pines of Formentor and Ternelles will have been raised, and what else does one do with a tree, other than climb it.

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