I’ve got a thing for pine trees. The very first trees I put in the ground in Gloucester were loblollies that 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. Frequent 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 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