“During pre-settlement times, longleaf pine is believed to have covered up to 92 million acres in the southeastern United States. These forests provided, first turpentine and later lumber, which fueled the economy of many cities and towns of the Southeast. By the early 20th century most of the virgin forests were logged with little attempt to replant timbered lands. In later years, when planting was initiated to reclaim these lands, loblolly and slash pines were often selected for ease in planting and the belief that economic returns would be greater. By 1935, only about 35 million acres of longleaf pine remained, which was further reduced to 5 million acres by 1975. Estimates made in 1995 reduced this total to about 3 million acres.”
– Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge
I’m partial to longleaf pine forests because I grew up with them. Since the main character, Eulalie, in my Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman (crime and conjure novels) lives in a longleaf forest, the books indirectly become a plea or a reminder to save the longleaf rather than logging it off and replacing it with faster growing trees like slash pines.
Sad to say, our much-beloved Smokey the Bear helped kill off some of our longleaf pine forests because he came along at a time when the forest service (among others) refused to recognize what Indians and early settlers in so-called wiregrass country knew and facilitated: Longleaf pine forests need fire to survive. Without it, invasive understory trees take over and choke out the pines. But for years Smokey got attached to the idea that every fire had to be put out immediately rather than burning naturally and keeping the forest healthy.
The long-lived trees are not only viable as lumber but provide habitats for a large number of species, including some that are endangered such as the red-cockaded woodpecker.
To learn more about the tree, see The Longleaf Alliance that was founded in 1995 as a resource to “emphasize the ecological, economic, social, and historic importance of this once vast ecosystem”
“Longleaf pine is an evergreen conifer that got its common name for having the longest leaves of the eastern pine species. The needlelike leaves, which come in bundles of three, can grow up to 18 inches long! Mature trees stand 80 to 100 feet tall. The single trunk, which is covered in thick, scaly bark, reaches up to 3 feet in diameter. The trees naturally prune their lower branches and grow nearly perfectly straight.” – National Wildlife Federation