Longleaf pines have large cones.
by Ginny Stibolt
Over Christmas holiday break, our kids and grandkids came to visit and we took
everyone on a walk on a nature preserve near our house. I pointed out the various plants as we walked along the trails, as I am wont to do.
I showed them the longleaf pines (Pinus
palustris) (also known as southern yellow pine) growing
there and how their growing habits make them more tolerant of frequent
fires. Unlike other pines, they start out with a grassy stage for
a couple of years when they develop a deep root system. If a fire
passes during this stage, they only lose that year's needles and
can easily start growing again. Once they start growing vertically,
they grow quickly (up to five feet a year!) and do not put out any
side branches for a year or more. Again, if fire passes through,
they have only topknots of needles and don't provide much ladder
fuel for the fire to climb higher. Their buds are covered with a
dense layer of white hair, and their bark is thick. When they finally
produce side branches, they are shorter than branches of other pines
and point upward. Most other pine seedlings grow into a pyramid
shape, like Christmas trees with broad, horizontal lower branches.
<< Young longleaf
pines can grow up to five feet a year to keep their tops, where
new growth occurs, above passing ground fires. With no branches
to ignite, a dense covering on its buds, and a thick-barked trunk,
a tree this size might just lose its needles in a fire and then
continue to grow soon after.
A longleaf pine forest that has experienced periodic ground fires will have a lovely park-like feeling with a wealth of interesting undergrowth that would be crowded out in a weedier environment. This environment is important for many species of Florida's wildlife including the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.
These pines are a good drought-tolerant choice for urban landscapes because of their fast growth and their narrow habit.
Also their deep root system provides more wind-resistance than other pines. If you have a sandy, sunny spot on your property, plant some of these interesting native pines.
The grass stage of
a longleaf pine growing on our septic drainfield. It's been
growing for more than a year and I thought it was a grass or a rush.
How Grassy is the Grass Stage?
What I realized after our Christmas walk is that a dark green grassy
plant, which had been growing on the side of our septic drainfield
mound* for more than a year, was a longleaf pine. Finding it there
surprised me because most of the pines in the immediate vicinity
are loblollies (P. taeda). I wasn't on the lookout for longleaf
pines in my yard and the grassy stage really did look like a grass
or a rush. I transplanted it to a sunny, sandy spot in the front
meadow. I'm not sure the transplant will take because I didn't want
to dig a deep hole into the drainfield to get all of its roots,
but we couldn't leave it there.
I hope that while you are out in the yard working on gardening projects
that Mother Nature will provide you with some surprises, too. If
she does, let me know. Happy gardening in 2009!
For more information on longleaf pines click these links:
*We have let the septic drainfield mound on the side of our back
yard become a meadow, but we remove all the trees that sprout because
their deep root systems will damage the drainfield. Since it's a
drainfield, it was built with sandy soil to achieve the best drainage.
This is produces a harsh, desert-like environment and the irrigation
necessary to keep turf grass healthy is excessive. The previous
owner had planted the mound with St Augustine turf grass that did
not do well at all, but other more drought-tolerant plants do better
and it's the perfect environment for longleaf pines. Go to www.sky-bolt.com/garden/meadow.htm
to see how our meadows have developed over the last four years.
Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions
and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted
gardeners Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t
in planting zone 8/9. She's wrote, "Sustainable Gardening for
Florida," published by University Press of Florida that was
released in 2009. Now she's written "Organic Methods for Growing
Vegetables in Florida" with Melissa Contreras in Miami. The
new book will be release in Feb 2013. You may contact her or read
extra details on her articles and other information posted on her
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