Pines Are Common And Often Overlooked

Long-leaf pine “candles” start growing in January. By May these distinctive buds will be several inches in length.

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

The recent extreme foul weather has many residents of Wakulla County concerned about the safety of their trees. While it is almost inconceivable to imagine the area without these important plants, in the wrong circumstance they can be quite hazardous.

While any debilitated or unhealthy tree has a high risk factor, many native shallow rooted species are on the list which inevitably falls during storm events. Laurel and water oaks are always on the top of the problem list.

One durable deep rooted native genus which is usually one of the last standing after stormy weather are pines. Its sturdy structure is one of its many useful features.

Pines offered a variety of potential enterprises for industrious settlers and those who followed. These common trees are rarely appreciated and often overlooked today.

Arguably, the stateliest local pine is the Longleaf.  It is capable of reaching 80 to 125 feet in height with a 30 to 40-foot-branch spread.

A distinctive characteristic this beautiful tree is the new growth clusters which are silvery white during the winter. These buds are commonly called candles, which require little imagination from the viewer to see the similarity.

Longleaf Pines stay in a tufted, grass-like stage for five to seven years after germinating.  They grow very slowly in this phase while developing a root system.

Once the root system is firmly established, the growth accelerates.  The bright evergreen needles may extend up to 14 inches long and are very flexible giving a weeping effect to the tree.

Flowers are inconspicuous and occur in spring, along with abundant pollen. Soon large, spiny cones follow and may remain on the tree for several years.

The slash pine is another large, stately, heavily-branched, long-needled conifer native to Wakulla County.  It is capable of a rapid growth rate and the potential of reaching 100 feet in height with a three to four-foot-diameter trunk.

The six-inch-long cones appear among the dark green, eight-inch-long needles, and are favored by wildlife. Squirrels are particularly fond of the seeds, scattering the cone debris below.

Slash Pines self-prune its lower branches forming an open, rounded canopy which creates a light, dappled shade beneath. The grey-brown bark is deeply furrowed and scaly.

The filtered light allows just enough sun to reach understory plants and grow beneath this tall, evergreen tree.  This high, shifting shade provides an opportunity for wildlife habitat in the undergrowth.

Pines typically have deep roots except in poorly-drained soil. Once established slash pines are more tolerant of wet sites than most other pines and are moderately salt-tolerant.

Pines grow well on a variety of acidic soils in full sun or partial shade. The tap root is prominent in well-drained soils and can make young trees difficult to transplant from the wild.

While pines go largely unnoticed they are still an integral part of modern life.  Pines produce timber for structures, pine needles and bark for mulch, pulp for paper, and other commercial uses.

They also are an excellent specimen tree for home landscapes. Many Wakulla County residents many want to consider them in light of recent events.

To learn more about pines in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or at http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/