Longleaf pines are truly a species born to benefit from fire.

After several years of developing a strong tap root system, longleaf pines begin to grow in 2-3 feet spurts during each growing season. This fast growth quickly lifts their growing tips above the level of most ground fires, and once they add a thick bark, these trees become immune to all but the hottest fires.

Up until the turn of the 20th Century, longleaf pines thrived in a variety of soil and meteorological conditions and were found a few feet from the ocean, to more than 200 miles inland and on mountain ridges 2,500 feet high.

The modern-day descendants of these trees have proven to be more adaptable to other extreme weather incidences than most commercial species in the Southeast, according to Savereno.

“A few years back Hurricane Hugo came through South Carolina with a devastating effect on forest land. Subsequent studies showed that longleaf pines survived at a much higher rate than loblolly pines and better than other tree species,” the Clemson specialist says.

He points out that longleaf pines also are generating a lot of interest in enhancing carbon sequestration. These trees simply grow taller and last longer than most other forest species, hence they make a much larger positive carbon footprint than other species.

Improved forest management will be an important tool in the effort to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus limit the overall amount of warming during the coming decades.

Longleaf pine ecosystems are well suited for long-term storage of carbon. Longleaf pine trees live longer than other southern pine species and are less susceptible to fire, pests, and storms. These trees also produce wood more likely to be used in long-lasting structures.

Much of the private land that has been devoted to raising native longleaf pines has been done by individuals and groups trying to bring back and enhance wildlife species that flourished in the native ecosystem dominated by longleaf pines.

Turkey and quail populations in particular have been increased by introduction of longleaf pines into the ecosystem. Though less popularized, bird watching is among the top outdoor recreation activities in the U.S. and song bird species seem to thrive when longleaf pines are introduced into a rural ecosystem.

In some parts of the Southeast, longleaf pine ecosystems are the only places to find rapidly disappearing native species of plants and animals.

Nearly 900 plant species, found in longleaf forests, are found nowhere else in the world.

Of the 290 reptile and amphibian species found in the Southeast, 170 are found in longleaf pine ecosystems.

Of the species on the Federal Endangered or Threatened Species List, 26 are found in longleaf pine ecosystems. Included among these species are the red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise.

rroberson@farmpress.com