What is Longleaf Pine?
Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)
Pinus palustris, more commonly known as longleaf pine, is a native, North American pine tree that can reach the height of 120 feet and a diameter of 2.5 feet. The tree has scaly bark and needles in bundles of 2 or 3 that are shiny, dark green, and approximately 6 to 10 inches long. Longleaf pine thrives in warm and wet climates with annual precipitation between 43 and 69 inches. This tree species is commonly found on sandy, infertile, and well-drained soils in a wide variety of upland and flatwood sites.(1) The longleaf pine species once dominated the southern Coastal plan, covering nearly 90 million acres at the time of European colonization, but only 3 millions acres remain standing today. Learn more about the history and historic range of longleaf pine on our History and Importance of Longleaf Pine in Texas page.
Longleaf Pine Ecosystem
Longleaf Pine can be found across an extensive geographical range including montane, sandhills, rolling hills, and savannas (flatwoods). These habitat types are home to a bounty of diverse species outlined below:
- Montane: Broomstraws, bluestems, goat’s rue, bracken ferns, scarlet oak, mountain blueberry, American chestnut, southern red oak, mockernut hickory, virginia pine, shortleaf pine, and more.
- Sandhills: Prickly pear cactus, hairsedge, wiregrass, piney woods dropseed, golden aster, sandhill lupine, dwarf iris, orange-fringed orchids, turkey oak, black cherry, sassafrass, pawpaw, blackberry, persimmon, and more.
- Rolling Hills: rattlebox, dollar pea, lespedeza, candyroot, procession flower, orange milkwort, goldenrod, blackjack oak, willow oak, sand post oak, Florida dogwood, black hickory, gallberry, yaupon, wax myrtle, and more.
- Savannas/Flatwoods: Tarflower, toothache grass, silk grass, hatpins, muhly grass, pitcher plants, sundews, white star grass, butterfly pea, milkweeds, deer tongue, water oak, sweet gum, red maple, fetterbrush, ilex, dwarf live oak, southern magnolia, creeping blueberry, and more.(2)
Additionally, these ecosystems are inhabited by a plethora of wildlife including: bobwhite quail, Eastern Indigo snake, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Eastern bluebird, Wild turkeys, pygmy rattlesnake, red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, tiger swallowtail, and many other species.(3) Protecting and managing longleaf pine ecosystems not only ensures the longevity of the tree species, but all the many, many plants and wildlife that depend on it.
Values of Longleaf Pine
Along with the environmental value of protecting longleaf pine ecosystems, there are many economic and social benefits to preserving this valuable ecosystem. Some of these values include:
- Value from Wood Products: Longleaf is known for producing great quality lumber that has strength, durability and appearance. In addition to providing pulp wood from thinning, a well-managed longleaf stand can produce excellent quality utility poles starting at age 30–35. Trees bought for utility poles provide much higher prices than trees bought for pulp.
- Risk Aversion: An important characteristic of longleaf is its ability to withstand threats from insects, wind, and fire. For example, the southern pine bark beetle does not infest longleaf because it responds with its heavy resin flow. Studies following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina found better survivability with longleaf compared to slash and loblolly. Longleaf terminal buds are protected by the needles from fire most months of the year. Although it will succumb to intense fires it has a better survivability than both slash and loblolly to fire. These characteristics can de-risk a timber portfolio.
- Low Up Front Costs / Offset Returns: Cost share programs provide incentives for land owners to defray the initial investment with a new longleaf stand. Many east Texas counties are part of the NRCS Longleaf Pine Initiative where reimbursements can exceed 70% of the actual cost.
- Investment Analysis Assumptions: Owners are encouraged to consider their objectives for their land. How do you want to enjoy your land and how do you want it to look? Consider how a young timber stands closes in as it ages. Are you planting young pine trees strictly to generate income? Are you planning this income for you or your heirs? How much income can be expected at the first thinning in 15 years? How much income will be generated at 20 years or 30 years? Ask a timber consultant to show the investment costs and realistic income to be expected from various timber species and planting densities.
- Wildlife Benefits Analyses: Owners can have a wildlife specialist describe the species that will occupy their timber land under various timber management scenarios. Plant longleaf or loblolly thick and don’t burn or thin and you can expect a very limited wildlife experience. Consider how the ground vegetation changes over time as the sunlight decreases on the forest floor. Understanding those changes in the vegetation can help you decide species selection, planting density, and the thinning and burning frequency.
Management of Longleaf Pine
Longleaf Pine requires some management techniques, especially at the point of establishing the ecosystem. Clearing of brush, management of soil, frequent fire, wildlife analyses, and species planting are just some of the techniques used to ensure a vibrant and healthy longleaf pine ecosystem. Not all of these techniques must be used for every longleaf pine forest establishment, but a perfect combination of them will be employed to ensure that the needs of the landowner are met. Fore more information on these management techniques, visit our Landowner Assistance tab. For information on cost-sharing opportunities for landowners, visit our Cost-Share Programs tab.
1. USDA NRCS Jimmy Carter Plant Materials Center. "Longleaf Pine." www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/gapmcfs10355.pdf.
2. “Habitats.” The Longleaf Alliance, longleafalliance.org/what-is-longleaf/the-ecosystem/habitats/.
3. “Species Diversity .” The Longleaf Alliance, longleafalliance.org/what-is-longleaf/the-ecosystem/species-diversity/.