Lon­gleaf pines mak­ing a come­back

The Progress-Index - At Home - - BETTY MONTGOMERY - By Betty Mont­gomery

Wil­liam Bar­tram, a nat­u­ral­ist from Philadel­phia, trav­eled across the Southeast in the spring of 1773 and de­scribed “a vast for­est of the most stately pine trees that can be imag­ined.”

Bar­tram was de­scrib­ing the lon­gleaf pine for­est that cov­ered the Southeast. It was the dom­i­nant pine from Vir­ginia to Florida and over to east Texas, cov­er­ing an es­ti­mated 90 mil­lion acres.

When the ex­plor­ers first came to Vir­ginia in search of gold and sil­ver, they did not find th­ese el­e­ments but they found the lon­gleaf pine. From th­ese trees came naval prod­ucts: pitch, tar and tur­pen­tine. They also noted the straight, strong trunks were ideal for masts of their ships. Th­ese were most valu­able to Eng­land be­cause they were a naval power and th­ese prod­ucts were crit­i­cally im­por­tant to their grow­ing fleet.

As colonies grew, log­ging of th­ese tall, straight, ma­jes­tic trees fol­lowed. Slowly the forests were re­placed by farm­land and the stately trees be­gan to dis­ap­pear. In the mid 1900s, when plan­ta­tions of pines were planted, the loblolly and slash pine were planted. Th­ese trees have a more rapid growth rate and this meant landown­ers could har­vest pines faster for pulp and lum­ber, and a profit was made quicker.

Peo­ple who grew up in North Carolina are familiar with the lon­gleaf pine, the na­tive pine that filled the for­est. The area was al­ways green in the win­ter be­cause the area did not have the nat­u­ral as­sort­ment of large hard­woods that grow in the Pied­mont and moun­tain ar­eas. Lon­gleaf pines hold a spe­cial place for me.

Many years ago, I de­cided I wanted to plant a few lon­gleaf pines. My dad had al­ways said it was su­pe­rior to loblolly and I wanted the 18-inch long

pine nee­dles to use as mulch around the house and gar­den. I ob­tained four seedlings and went to work plant­ing. The first lon­gleaf trees I planted are now about 40 feet in height.

I have learned over the years about plant­ing th­ese trees. First, they put down a deep taproot as they are start­ing to grow. You can plant a lon­gleaf pine seedling and it might sit for three years and you think it is not grow­ing, but that root is go­ing deep into the ground. Then all of a sud­den it will take off and the tree will grow quite rapidly.

I have also learned that if you plant a lon­gleaf pine, you need a seedling, not a larger-size tree. I was once given six lon­gleaf pines, each in five-gal­lon con­tain­ers, and I planted all of them. They lived, but be­cause they had not put down the taproot first, each of the trees over time fell over. The weight of the tree above ground was too much for the sur­face roots. They needed that taproot to an­chor the tall skinny tree when it started to grow. I have found that plant­ing a seedling is the best way to go and th­ese small trees catch up to a larger one you might plant at the same time.

Lon­gleaf pines are said to be a su­pe­rior tree. Lon­gleaf trees are more re­sis­tant to in­sect at­tacks than the other pines grown on the east coast. In­sects drown in the thick sap that oozes from the tree when they bore a hole through the thick brown bark.

Lon­gleaf pines are also no­tably more tol­er­ant of fire, re­duc­ing the loss fac­tor when fire roars through the for­est. The long nee­dles make su­pe­rior mulch and bring a higher price per bale of pine nee­dles. The tall, straight sin­gle trunks pro­duce a stronger wood and are sought af­ter for tele­phone poles.

To­day, there is a come­back of the lon­gleaf pine tree. If you ride through ar­eas of the Caroli­nas where peo­ple plant plan­ta­tions of pines, you will see more and more groves of lon­gleaf pines be­ing planted. Peo­ple are re­al­iz­ing the long-term value of this ma­jes­tic tree.

I will con­tinue to plant a few lon­gleaf pines each year and I will en­joy see­ing them grow and ma­ture. I will also en­joy the nee­dles that they pro­duce to put around my plants. My plants will also en­joy the high dap­pled shade they cre­ate which is ideal for aza­leas and camel­lias and other plants. Lon­gleaf pines are on the rise.

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