Longleaf or yellow pine forests once dominated the South and spread 90 million acres from the Atlantic Coastal Plain of southeastern Virginia to the West Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas. Longleaf pine developed in close
association with periodic surface fires resulting in open park-like stands with a ground cover dominated by grasses. This pine is native to a variety of sites and soils ranging from wet, poorly drained flatwoods to dry deep
sandhills. Longleaf pine is the only pine species to develop with a grass stage, itself looking like a clump of grass. While in this stage the seedlings develop an extensive root system. Longleaf forests are home to numerous wildlife species, including game species such as quail, turkey,
and deer. Unfortunately, in the late 1800s and early 1900s almost all of the virgin longleaf timber was clearcut without any thought of regeneration. The same occurred in the forest surrounding Bagdad. At one point, Bagdad was the largest producer of longleaf yellow pine timber and lumber in the world. Today, only 4.7 million acres remain a loss of 95 percent. Longleaf pine has also been known as yellow
southern yellow longstraw heart, or hard pine. The remnants of the longleaf pine forests remain some of the most diverse ecosystems outside of the tropics, with as many as 40 to 50 different plant species in one square meter. This tree, unique to the South, is now being restored by public and private landowners and conservation groups.
Why We Need Fire
Fire is an important part of the longleaf pine ecosystem. Healthy growth of many of the plants in the system depends on fire. Longleaf pine and other shrubs and grasses in the forests have needles or leaves with resins and oils that make them extremely flammable. Seeds that fall to the ground are able to germinate best when fire clears
the dense undergrowth and leaves bare mineral soil. Historically, fires burned for weeks at a time, moving slowly through the forests. Today prescribed fire remains a very important management tool that fosters a healthy longleaf ecosystem.
Left, bottom: Prescribed fire in a longleaf pine forest
Right, top: Longleaf forest along the Blackwater
Right, middle: Anatomy of a longleaf pine tree