Pinus palustris, the Longleaf Pine

Pinus palustris, the Longleaf Pine, gets the most press of the Piedmont Pines. First, it has a seriously important history. Second, it requires fire to survive in any abundance. Third, it has HUGE cones. Seriously big cones. Bigger than your hand, unless you’ve got abnormally large mutant hands. Otherwise, they are about the same size as the other pines in the area. Oh, and yeah, it has long leaves/needles.

Mature Pinus palustris

Longleaf used to be the dominate tree in the Piedmont, but since European colonization they have steadily been replaced by buildings and more commercially profitable trees. They were heavily harvested in the 1700’s, being common (at that point), straight, and not so branchy, so if you needed a nice straight, long, round log, this was your tree. But that was centuries ago, and now you will not find one without a good search. It is listed as endangered by the IUCN.

They also require a good solid fast burning ground fire to get going. People have a tendency to resent good solid fast burning fires and put them out. So they’re not doing so well. But if fires are allowed to naturally occur, or maybe occur with some encouragement, they can come to dominate. The enormous cones release their seeds more vigorously after a good burning. The seedlings can spend five years or so as a little poof ball of on the ground needles, building up the necessary strength to outpace a fire. After half a decade of poof-ball, the seedling will make a rapid break for the sky, growing six feet or so in a single season.

Pinus palustris has very flakey bark

The needles are in (usually) bundled in threes, just like Loblolly pines. So the mnemonic of “number of needles in a bundle being sorta equal to the number of syllables in the name, as long as you don’t move much away from central North Carolina” doesn’t entirely work. But the needles ARE surprisingly long, so between that and the giant cones, you’re probably good.

References

“Pinus palustrus.” Encyclopedia of Life, available from http://www.eol.org/pages/323452/overview. Accessed February 5, 2016.