Sunday, December 10, 2017

My, What Long Needles You Have...

We are in far east Texas, the only part of Texas that supports Longleaf Pine forests. Longleaf Pine is an interesting tree that is highly dependent on fire to thrive and persist. For the first 5-10 years of life, it exists in a "Grass Stage" in which it appears to be a thick clump of grass. In this stage it is highly resistant to fire, which will burn the needle tips but not harm the bud.

At some point the tree makes a growth spurt, elevating the growing tip 4-5' in just a few months, (hopefully) placing it out of the reach of low-intensity fires. This is called the "Bottlebrush Stage".

After the growth spurt a Longleaf Pine grows up to 3 feet per year, to a maximum height of about 125 feet.  

Longleaf Pine is named for its extraordinarily long needles, which are up to 18 inches long. The local Alabama Coushatta Indian Tribe is famous for their ornate (longleaf) pine needle baskets. Here is a picture of baskets from an article about the Alabama Coushatta tribe. 

As impressive as the needles are, the cones are even more so. These are the biggest pine cones we've ever seen! These cones are 8 inches tall, but sources say they can be up to 10 inches. 

Most pine seeds are too small to notice, but the seeds in these cones are big enough to see. On the right is the "winged" part of the seed, which detaches from the cone and floats to the ground. On the left is the seed itself, which is about 1/2  long. 

Longleaf Pine forests benefit from regular, low-intensity fires. Fire eliminates the brush understory and competing trees. In the Angelina National Forest where we found this grove of trees, there are regular controlled burns to keep the forest healthy. All of the trees have scorched trunks, but they are thriving. 

Next - The rare bird species that relies on Longleaf Pine forests to survive. 



  1. What a great post. We have a friend who was a forester his whole career, and a biologist by degree. I will have to ask him if he is familiar with this tree.

    1. It is a tree of the Southeastern US, but an important lumber tree. Let me know what he says!

    2. John said he knew about the tree, and has had some physical contact with some. But, being from the Midwest and working in the West, no contact lately. He is now retired.

  2. Interesting tree! Love how it stays grass and then has a massive growth spurt.

    I had to laugh at the picture of Teri and the large pinecones. We vacationed near Lake Tahoe one summer and collected several large garbage bags full of similar very large pinecones. As a kindergarten teacher, I knew I'd find something fun to do with them.

    1. We've had a "Christmas Tree" in our family for decades that is one of these pine cones painted green, with some tiny glass ornaments on it.

      The other thing I've seen done is smearing them with peanut butter and rolling them in bird seed. Nothing too messy about that one!

  3. We'll be taking these home! I'll probably just sit them out on the deck.