Longleaf Pine, Pinus palustris

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is native to the coastal region from eastern Texas to southeast Virginia including northern and central Florida. This pine is also grouped into the Southern yellow pine species. Alabama has the Longleaf Pine as their state tree. Preserved stands of Longleaf Pine can be found in the Red Hills Region of Florida and Georgia.

The Longleaf pine grows in well-drained sandy soil, sometimes in clay, and grows in pure stands. This tree takes a long time to mature, 100-150 years, and can live up to 500 years. The Longleaf pine is fire resistant when in the grass stage of growing due to the density of the plant protecting the buds from damage.

This pine grows from 98 to 115 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 28 inches. The bark is thick and scaly and is reddish-brown in color. The needles are dark green and grow in bundles of three, often twisted, and measure 7.9-18 inches long. The Longleaf pine produces both male and female cones with the male (pollen) cone forming first in July and the female (seed) forming in August. The male cones measure 1.2 – 3.1 inches long with the female cones measuring 5.9-9.8 inches long. When closed the female cone is 2.0-2.8 inches around and opens to 4.7 inches when mature to release seeds that are 0.28-0.35 inches long with wings measuring 0.98-1.6 inches long.

The Longleaf pine seedlings looks like a clump of needles growing out of the ground known as the grass stage and grows very slowly for 5-12 years, then sprouts quickly, especially in open areas. The pine is protected during the grass stage from grass fires because of the density of the plant, which protects the buds.

Naval merchants used the Longleaf pine for resin, turpentine, and timber for their ships. Due to the over-harvesting of the Longleaf Pine, the Loblolly pine was used in place of the Longleaf pine for the timber. The wood from the Longleaf pine is very high in resin and is used for lumber and pulp. Once the stumps become saturated with resin they will not rot as attested by farmers who have dug up old stumps that was buried 100 years ago. The old stumps are sold as Fatwood used as kindling for wood burning fires. Boards cut from the fatwood are heavy and rot resistant, but very flammable due to the high resin content. The pine needles are often used in basket weaving.

Many species of animals rely on this pine for habitat and food such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The decline of Longleaf pines has endangered the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The seeds are full of nutrients and especially liked by the Brown-headed Nuthatch. Several species of salamanders and frogs rely on this tree for their habitats.

Image Caption: Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). Credit: Woodlot/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)