Les Harrison is the Wakulla County Extension Director
For the child persistently wishing to acquire a new toy, parents commonly retort that money does not grow on trees. This may seem obvious today, but history in Wakulla County might indicate otherwise.
During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, trees were a major source of money. Many individuals and families were heavily involved in some phase of the timber industry.
At the center of this natural resource base business were pine trees. In addition to lumber, post and poles, there was turpentine and other naval stores.
The variety of pines offered a variety of potential enterprises for industrious settlers. These ubiquitous trees so necessary in the past are rarely noticed or appreciated today.
Arguably, the stateliest local pine is the Longleaf. This pine is a native North American tree 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 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 the 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.
Aggressive root competition for moisture takes place beneath these pines.
Left unmanaged, excessive undergrowth can produce a wildfire hazard particularly during the dry season.
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.
Pine timber for structures, pine needles and bark for mulch, pulp for paper, and much more.
While the percentage of the local population is smaller than in past centuries, money does grow on trees for many Wakulla County residents.
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