The Longleaf Pine

I’ve got a thing for pine trees.  The very first trees I put in the ground in Gloucester were loblollies My longleaf pine in the Secret Gardenthat are now sixty feet tall and limbed up not to interfere with our view of the river.  Ten years ago, I found a small longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) at a local nursery and snatched it for our yard.  It now stands 25-feet tall, on its way to 100-feet, and I am infatuated with it.

I buy needles from North Carolina’s longleaf pines for garden mulch and the remarkable needles are over a foot long.  My longleaf pine stands in the middle of my new Secret Garden and I love to walk under it and be awed by its carpet of fallen needles at this time of year.

At one time, longleaf pine forests dominated the southern landscape from Virginia south through nine states and covered over 90 million acres.  It is what the first Europeans witnessed in discovering the new world. In today’s fragmented environment of developments, highways, farms and cities, it’s hard to imagine seeing these pine forests that often stood alone as the only species.  Amazingly, the tree’s survival depended on fire.  longleaf and loblolly needleFrequent fires in dryer areas moved quickly through southeast forests where longleaf pines over ten feet tall survived and thrived. Where there was fire, you could find a longleaf pine forest.

Sadly, in the last 150 years, the longleaf pine forest has been transformed from a forest that dominated the southern landscape to protected pockets of forests in most of the nine states.  Used for lumber, turpentine, pitch, tar, cleared for development or agriculture, 97% of the original longleaf pine forests have disappeared.

Today the tree is being seen for sale more often at nurseries in the Tidewater area.  I bought one last Great prices for 10' longleaf pine!year and two more this fall at great prices for 10’ trees.  My purchases won’t restore the longleaf pine forest in Virginia but perhaps we will see an effort to re-establish the forests on large tracks of private lands in Virginia. If more is not done, it is possible that we see the demise of the remaining forests and the unique habitat that depends on them.

To protect those forests and educate the public, the Longleaf Alliance (LLA) was established in 1995. The group coordinates partnerships between private landowners, forest industries, state and federal agencies, conservation groups, researchers, and other enthusiasts interested in managing and restoring longleaf pine forests for their ecological and economic benefits.  Learn more here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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18 thoughts on “The Longleaf Pine

    • Someday I hope to walk through a longleaf pine forest in its park-like beauty of no undergrowth or brush. I have read that ODU was given about 300+ acres by Union Camp Corp. in 1985. Located in Blackwater Ecologic Perserve in Isle of Wight, I read that they have reintroduced fire and had some success with rare native plants. If your Native Plant Group visits there, I’d sure like to tag along.

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    • From what I understand, the forests began in southeast Virginia. No wonder you love it so. Stands are found around Florida and the panhandle has one of the largest longleaf forests, protected by The Nature Conservancy.

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  1. I live in Macon , Georgia. Longleaf are native to this area especially in the southern part of the county. I have been transplanting them for a couple of years in my yard. They are beautiful and are a major componet of our culture. I have had excellent results in transplanting them from the wild when they are in the grass stage during the late fall and early winter. They stay as a clump resembling a tuff of grass while the roots grow. Then they shoot up about 3 or 4 feet per year. Spread the word about this excellent tree.

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    • John, thank you for commenting on the longleaf pine. How deep are the roots when you transplant them from the ‘grass’ stage? I hope we can spread the word in Virginia about these remarkable trees that are natives to southeastern part of our state, too. They are stunning in the landscape.

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  2. Ann – Great article! I read about longleaf pines on a tree forum, and also learned how few trees remain in VA. When I contacted our local forester, he encouraged me to plant LLP seedlings. The VA Forestry Dept does not have LLPs available for the public, but the NC Forestry Service does so I purchased 100 seedlings in the grass stage two years ago.

    Some are thriving, I expect a few to “pop” this year. Many vanished. The forester advised that provenence is very important for longleaf pines, and that I would have more success with seedlings grown from local seed. At present, “local seed” is very limited.

    Like you, I will continue to plant these lovely but threatened trees.

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    • I wish they were readily available from the NC Forestry Service but their website said they only sell out of state when there is a surplus.

      It makes sense that we would have more success with seedlings from local seeds. Maybe I can find a few somewhere…..

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      • Ann – Although the website says they do not sell out of state unless they have a surplus, several people (including me) have ordered LLPs with no problems. I ordered containerized LLP seedlings in fall 2008. The seedlings arrived in early January 2009.

        I just checked the website:

        250 Longleaf Pine Improved Containerized 1 Yr. – $40.00

        Here is the link: http://nc-forestry.stores.yahoo.net/containerized.html

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  3. I began in 2007 planting only the smaller grass stage longleaf pines because I had read that they were difficult to transplant from the wild. I have since begun transplanting larger grass stage pines, some were even starting their upward growth. I transplanted several of these in August of this year. The best time to transplant is in November through January, but because I can monitor them on a regular basis, I planted these earlier. I watered them regularly for about two weeks, but have not watered them since because we have received a tremendous amount of rain this fall. They are doing very well. I have transplanted all of them after a good rain so I could get my shovel at a good depth. I dig around the plant in a circle about the size of my 5 gallon bucket and place them in the bucket. I then tranplant them as soon as I get home. Before digging them, I place about two or three inches of soil in the bottom of the bucket to protect any exposed roots. On some of the larger trees the end of the tap root may be cut, but the trees seem to do well because I have kept a good percentage of the roots intact. I dig a large hole where I am going to tranplant. Pine straw is place around the tree after transplanting. I try to pull up any grass that may come up near the tree. There are some fairly large tracts in South Georgia where these trees still dominate the landscape. They are a thing of beauty. I can only imagine what the landscape once looked like with these trees.

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    • John, it sounds like you’ve got the magic touch. I didn’t think they would survive if the part of the tap root was cut. Now I know. Someday I might get the opportunity to try your method.

      I understand the loblollies and the longleaf pines will cross freely and produce the Sonderegger pine. Have you seen this hybrid in North Carolina? Since I have both loblolly and longleaf in close proximity, they will most likely cross.

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  4. I am in Georgia and I have seen them quite oftten. The pollination times are at the same time so they are fairly common. The nickname is “bastard pine.”

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