In Persian language, Chilghoza means 40 nuts in one cone noosa, or neoza. It belongs to family Pinaceae. Technically it is called Pinus gerardiana and is indigenous to the northwest of Himalaya; found in northern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan, and northwest India, growing at elevations between 1800-3350 meters. It is often found in association with Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana) and Deodar tree (Cedrus deodara). Chilghoza is an evergreen monoecious tree of usually medium size ranging 12 to 18 m tall with 0.4 m in diameter. The canopy is often wide, rounded and short. The branches are flat or curved in their appearance. The needles are in fascicles of 3, with 3.6 to 12 cm long. There are several male flowers or cones, crowded in a head-like cluster. The female flowers are erect and bloom between June and July. When the fruit gets ripen it turns a shiny reddish-brown colour, remains intact and closed with the branches. The seeds in the cones take a full year to mature after pollination and a full two years for the reproductive cycles to be completed. There are bi-winged seeds beneath each cone scale. Seeds are often shed from September through October (Sheikh, 1993). It is a hard tree which can endure excessive drought, high winds, and severe cold in the winter.

In Pakistan, it is native to the Western Himalayas, the mountains of Hindukush and Afghanistan extending south to the Sulaiman Range in Balochistan. It is found in the interior dry valleys of Chitral, Kurram, Upper Swat, Astore, Shingar and in the Northern Areas of Gilgit Baltistan.

Chilghoza pine is an intolerant tree that grows on a number of soils and textures. Its performance is very excellent on well drained soils and is hindered by growing on heavy or wet sites. It is well adapted to a precipitation range of 370 to 750 mm/yr. Its favorite climate zone is a semi-arid, cool temperate region with a temperature range of -20 to 35 C at elevations between 1800 to 3350 m (Sheikh, 1993).

The wood of Chilghoza pine (Pinus gerardiana) is straight, medium fine and uneven textured. Sapwood is white to off-white and heartwood is light red brown to dark brown, resinous. The common uses include construction, fuel, food (pine nuts), and medicinal (pine nuts).

I would emphasize on the main product of this tree – Chilghoza (pine nuts). Pine nuts fall in the category of non-timber forest product (NTFP). According to Gray (2013), the word nut refers to a wide range of seeds, mostly originating from trees, with a hard, often lignified shell. Chestnuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts are considered as true nuts. Practically, these are normally classified along with few other so-called nuts, for example the pine nuts, almonds, cashew nuts, and peanuts, and certain other seeds, which are all nearly used in recognizable ways in the diet.

Pine nuts or kernels are referred to small edible seeds. They are extracted from the cones of various species of pine. There are more than 100 different species of pines that exist worldwide. However, only 29 species generate edible nuts according to Food and Agriculture Organization (Ciesla, 1998). Hence, the commercial species which are traded locally or internationally numbered to twenty only. Chilghoza pine (Pinus gerardiana) is among one of them.

Previous epidemiological studies have provided strong proofs that the additions of nut to usual diet do not negatively affect body weight (Martínez-González and Bes-Rastrollo, 2011). An inverse relation between the intake frequency of nut and body mass index (BMI) has been concluded in all advanced cohort studies. When the association between nut consumption and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) was estimated in the Nurses Health Study, it was found that the women who ingested more nuts tended to lose body weight (Jiang, Manson, Stampfer, Liu, Willett, and Hu, 2002). According to the Physicians Health Study, men who consumed nuts 2 times/week or more, had lower BMIs than those who consumed nuts only once per week or less (Albert, Gaziano, Willett, and Manson, 2002).

This is considered one of the valuable and important trees for reforestation and afforestation programs of denuded hill sides as well. Owing to its ability to grow in semi-arid cold temperate climates this tree would be ideal for reclaiming denuded areas of Balochistan, Upper Kaghan, Gilgit and Sakardu in Pakistan (Sheikh, 1993). A challenge prevails for natural regeneration of Chilgoza pine due to the demand for its tasty edible seeds. The future of this precious and commercially important tree is dependent upon the development of protected seed sources.

The writer is from the University of Padova, Italy.

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