The Longleaf Pine
In my opinion one of the most beautiful ecosystems in the Southeastern United States is that dominated long leaf pine. This species of pine covered about 92 million acres when the European Settlers arrived and today covers only about 3 million acres of its former native range. These scattered 3 million acres stretch from the coastal plains of Virginia down to North Florida and west along the southern portions of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and terminate in far east Texas. If you have ever traveled in these areas you will notice the longleaf pine ecosystem with the majestic spreading canopy of the longleaf pine and the bunch grasses of blue stem and wire grass create a savanna understory. The longleaf pine is extremely fire tolerant and while in the grass or clump stage of its growth the trees crown is impenetrable by fire. This fire proof characteristic follows the tree throughout it’s life and the frequent use of control burning helps it to thrive and eliminates competition from hardwoods and other brush. Along with control burning the flammable nature of the bunch grasses and the sandy soils that longleaf thrive in create an environment conducive for fire and is one of the primary reasons long leaf thrived in its former range.
The early European settlers of the Southeast valued the longleaf for building homes and were clearing land for row crops which began the decline of the longleaf pine. Throughout much of the early 19th century much of the transportation of lumber took place close to waterways so those farther away from water were safe, but with the creation of railroad infrastructure in the late 19th century long leaf harvesting sky rocketed. In 1907 logging peaked with the removal of 13 billion board feet of longleaf and by the Great Depression logging ceased and the timber resource was exhausted. As we continued into the twentieth century much of the timber industry began to focus upon pulp production and with many of the major timber companies acquired by pulp and paper corporations the focus shifted to the faster growing species of loblolly pine( Pinus taeda) and or slash pine ( Pinus elliotti). With intense logging and lack of reforestation the longleaf suffered and we dwindled the habitat to a mere 3% of its native range.
However, by the mid 1990’s many nature enthusiast took note of the dwindling longleaf population and with their focus and help the Longleaf Alliance was organized in 1995 and from 1995 to 2006 600 million seedlings were planted thus helping to regenerate 1 million acres. If you ever have a chance to visit their site I would highly suggest it http://www.AmericasLongleaf.org/. The longleaf is a wonderful tree to plant both aesthetically and economically. The wood makes wonderful saw timber and in well managed sites long leaf can create excellent poles which is more valuable than saw timber. Along with its wonderful wood qualities the longleaf has a high specific gravity and thus making increased tonnage per cord and giving the landowner more dollars per acre when harvesting. Another wonderful quality of the Longleaf Pine is for pine straw production. This annual revenue can be upwards of $275.00 per acre if managed correctly and the raking can be done for the life of the longleaf pine plantation rotation if done correctly. Many times one can make more money with the pine straw than the wood. One of the biggest management factors to consider when planting the longleaf is to understand the trees dependence upon fire when young. Longleaf is a terrible competitor and if planted along side loblolly, slash, and other hardwoods in a first successional stage forest or in a Bermuda grass pasture the others would win out every time. The are not enough words to explain the wonderful qualities of the longleaf pine and if the opportunity presents itself you should invest in a property with longleaf.