The Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) is a medium-sized evergreen tree with a straight, cylindrical trunk and a rounded to pyramid-shaped crown. The lower branches are usually long, slender and drooping, while the upper branches often point upwards. Although it may grow to 45 metres in height, the Caribbean pine typically reaches 20 to 35 metres, and has a trunk diameter of 50 to 100 centimetres (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).
The bark of this species is reddish-brown to greyish, and is divided by deep cracks into rough, irregularly-shaped plates (2) (4) (5) (6). The needle-like leaves of the Caribbean pine grow at the end of the twigs in bundles of three to five. The leaves are long and very narrow, at 15 to 25 centimetres in length and just 1.5 millimetres in width, and are stiff, shiny, and dark to yellowish-green, with whitish lines (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).
The Caribbean pine produces both male and female cones. The male, or ‘pollen’, cones are around four centimetres long, reddish-brown, and grow in dense clusters, mostly in the lower branches of the tree (3) (4) (5) (6). The female, or ‘seed’, cones are oval in shape and usually grow higher up in the tree, either singly or in small groups (2) (4) (5) (6). The surface of the seed cone is covered in brown to reddish-brown, spreading scales, and the whole cone measures around 5 to 12 centimetres long and 2 to 8 centimetres wide (2) (4) (6). Each of the Caribbean pine’s seed cones contains 30 to 60 small seeds (4) (5), which are grey, pale brown or blackish, and average around 6 millimetres in length, with a 20 millimetre long membranous ‘wing’ (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).
- Also known as
- Bahamas pine, Bahamian pine, Caribbean pitch pine, Cuban pine, Honduran yellow pine, Honduras pine, Nicaragua pine, pitch pine, slash pine, yellow pine.
- Pinus bahamensis, Pinus cubensis var. anomala, Pinus hondurensis, Pinus recurvata, Pinus taeda var. heterophylla.
- Pino de la Costa, Pino Macho.
- Height: up to 45 m (2)
Caribbean pine biology
The Caribbean pine grows relatively rapidly (6), but most of its annual growth occurs in response to rainfall (2). This species is monoecious, with male and female cones occurring on the same plant (3) (4) (6). The first female cones are produced when the Caribbean pine reaches three to four years old, but the male cones may not mature until later (3) (5) (6). Pollen cones may be borne throughout the year, but the seed cones are reported to be more seasonal (4).
Pollen is transferred from the pollen cones to the seed cones of the Caribbean pine by the wind (4) (6), after which the seed cone takes up to two years to mature and ripen (2) (6). The cones of the Caribbean pine usually reach maturity between June and August within this species’ natural range (4), and the seeds are dispersed by the wind (4) (6), or may sometimes be transported by animals or humans (6). In plantations outside of its natural range, the Caribbean pine rarely regenerates naturally (6), producing relatively few seeds due either to cool temperatures, which prevent flowering, or to humid conditions during flowering, which hinder pollination (5).
Caribbean pine range
The Caribbean pine is native to parts of Central America and the Caribbean. Three varieties are recognised, the most widely distributed of which is Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis, which occurs in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico, in Quintana Roo and Yucatán (2) (4) (5). Pinus caribaea var. caribaea occurs in parts of western Cuba, in Pinar del Río and Isla de Pinos (1) (2), while Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis occurs in the Bahamas and Turks-Caicos Islands (2) (5).
The Caribbean pine has been widely planted outside of its natural range, throughout the tropics in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australia (3) (5) (6). Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis is reported to be the variety most commonly used in plantations outside of the native range (6).
Caribbean pine habitat
This species usually grows in lowland forests up to elevations of around 700 metres (2) (3) (4) (5), although it may also occur up to 1,500 metres (4) (6). The Caribbean pine may be found in pine and mixed oak-pine forests (1), often forming pure stands and often growing near the coast (2). It typically grows on well-drained, acidic soils (2) (3) (5) (6).
Caribbean pine status
The Caribbean pine is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Variety Pinus caribaea var. caribaea is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Caribbean pine threats
An important timber tree, the Caribbean pine is widely exploited and is grown in many plantations throughout the world (2) (3) (4) (6). In addition to timber for construction, it is also used for a range of other purposes, including fuelwood, paper production and for its resin. It is often also grown as an ornamental tree, windbreak, or as a means of preventing soil erosion (2) (4) (5) (6). The seeds of the Caribbean pine may be eaten locally (3) (6).
Although not currently considered globally threatened (1), the variety Pinus caribaea var. caribaea is believed to be under threat from the burning and logging of large areas of pine forest in Cuba, which have transformed its habitat into savannah. Frequent fires also prevent its re-growth (1), and an estimated 70 percent of Cuba’s original pine forests have now been altered by fires and human activities (7). However, other scientists have argued that large areas have now been reforested and that this variety of the Caribbean pine is common within its native range (2).
There is some concern that the exploitation of the Caribbean pine as a timber tree may have reduced its genetic diversity, particularly with regard to the most widely planted variety, Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis (2).
Caribbean pine conservation
There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the Caribbean pine.
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- A plant which retains leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous plants, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
- An organism in which separate male and female organs occur on the same individual.
- The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
- In taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, variety is the rank below subspecies. Members of a variety differ from others of the same species in relatively minor ways.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
The Gymnosperm Database - Pinus caribaea (March, 2011)
World Agroforestry Centre: AgroForestryTree Database - Pinus caribaea (March, 2011)
Barrett, W.H.G. and Golfari, L. (1962) Descripción de dos nuevas variedades del “Pino del Caribe” (Pinus caribaea Morelet). Caribbean Forester, 23(2): 59-71.
Salazar, R. and Jøker, D. (2000) Seed Leaflet No. 40: Pinus caribaea Morelet. Danida Forest Seed Centre, Denmark. Available at:
WWF: Cuban pine forests (March, 2011)
Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. and Brink, M. (Eds.) (2008) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 7(1). Timbers 1. PROTA Foundation, Backhuys Publishers and CTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.