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Pinus merkusii

Pinus merkusii
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Scientific name: Pinus merkusii  Junghuhn & de Vriese  1845

Synonyms: Pinus finlaysoniana Wall. ex Blume, Pinus merkusii subsp. ustulata Businský, Pinus sumatrana Mirb.

Common names: Merkus pine, Tenasserim pine, Sumatran pine, Two-needled pine, Mindoro pine (English), Damar batu, Damar bunga, Uyam (Indonesian)



Tree to 30(-50) m tall, with trunk to 1(-2) m in diameter. Bark thick, dark grayish brown, deeply ridged and furrowed, with the ridges breaking up into scaly, square blocks. Crown open, broadly conical to dome-shaped or flattened, with numerous spreading, horizontal to upwardly angled branches well clothed with foliage at the ends. Twigs dark brown, hairless, rough with the bases of scale leaves. Buds 1-2 cm long, not resinous. Needles in bundles of two, each needle (15-)17-25(-30) cm long, straight, thin and flexible or slightly thicker and a little stiff, falling during the second year, bright green. Individual needles with prominent lines of stomates on both faces, and two resin canals at the corners midway between the two-stranded midvein and the needle surface and sometimes with a third linking the inner face and midvein. Sheath (10-)12-18(-20) mm long, persisting and falling with the bundle. Pollen cones (2-)4-5 cm long, orange-yellow. Seed cones 5-10(-13) cm long, very narrowly egg-shaped when closed, approaching spherical when open, with 45-75 seed scales, green before maturity ripening shiny reddish brown, opening widely to release the seeds and then falling with the slender stalk about 1 cm long. Seed scales wedge- to paddle-shaped, the exposed face equally diamond-shaped to barely five-sided, distinctly if modestly pyramidally projecting, with fine, radiating wrinkles, crossed by a sharp horizontal ridge topped by a large, usually indented, prickleless umbo. Seed body 5-8 mm long, the easily detachable wing another 17-25 mm longer.

The species name honors Pieter Merkus (1787-1844), the Dutch colonial governor of Indonesia at the time the species was described.     

Scattered on hillsides and tablelands across Southeast Asia from southeastern Myanmar, northern Laos and Vietnam, and southern China (southern Guangxi, southwestern Guangdong, and Hainan), south through Thailand and Indochina and in northern Sumatra and the northern Philippines (Mindoro and extreme western Luzon). Forming pure, open pine savannas on poor soils where subjected to frequent fires or mixed with hardwoods that grow up around it in their absence; (50-)250-1,500(-2,000) m.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable

Although the rate of decline past and present is unknown, continued exploitation of natural stands and deforestation in the Philippines and Indonesia are putting this species at risk. It is unknown to what extent natural stands are being replaced by pine plantations, if this occurs even with the same species it cannot substitute for natural pine forest. The extent of occurrence (EOO) is beyond a threatened category mainly due to the disparate distribution. However, the area of occupancy is estimated to be less than 2,000 km2. Subpopulations are severely fragmented and there is an ongoing decline due to deforestation and logging. On this basis, Pinus merkusii is assessed as Vulnerable under the B2 criterion.

The global population of wild occurring trees of Pinus merkusii is naturally fragmented in two widely separated subpopulations; in the Philippines in particular, one of these is again fragmented in small, isolated subpopulations, in part due to overexploitation and deforestation. Natural stands of this species are declining throughout its range.

Pinus merkusii occurs in mountainous regions and forms more or less open pine woods or pine savannas influenced by periodic grass fires. This ecosystem is much influenced by man and may even have been created by people over thousands of years of occupation. In Sumatera, this is the only pine that crosses the equator into the southern hemisphere. The altitude range given here (300 to 1,300 m) is from herbarium specimen labels and may be incomplete. It should be considered indicative only.

Throughout its range, Pinus merkusii is threatened by over-exploitation, habitat degradation and an increase in the frequency of fires. On Mindoro in the Philippines, mining is an additional threat (Razal 2005). Around Lake Toba in northern Sumatera historical decline has fragmented the population and exploitation has progressed to the NE from there. In the Philippines the much smaller subpopulations are now also fragmented.

Merkus pine has been extensively planted throughout Indonesia (where it is only indigenous in northern Sumatera) by the Dutch in colonial times. Indonesian foresters have continued this practice as it is the country's most important producer of pine resin. Young planted trees are better for tapping than 'old growth' trees in natural stands. Indonesia is a major producer of turpentines distilled from this resin. In the Philippines, this species is tapped together with Pinus kesiya, which is indigenous on these islands, but not in Indonesia. When trees have grown beyond good yield of resin, their wood is harvested for the pulp industry to manufacture paper, a process which allows final extraction of the resin in the wood. If well managed, these plantations are a renewable resource and can assist in the preservation of the natural stands of Pinus merkusii. The wood of higher grade is also used in house construction, panelling and furniture making.

In the Philippines this species is recorded from at least one protected area (Mt Paragpagan Forest Reserve) while in Sumatera it is recorded from several protected areas such as Dolok Saut Nature Reserve and Kerinci National Park. Ex situ collections have been established that represent the Sumateran provenances.



  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.

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