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Wood of the Month:
Longleaf Pines of Old Resurface, Thanks To Reclaiming Efforts

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Pinus palustris and Pinus elliottii of the Family Pinaceae

Longleaf pine, Florida longleaf, yellow pine, Georgia yellow pine, slash pine, Gulf Coast pitch pine, longleaf pitch pine, turpentine pine

Heights range from 100 to 125 feet with diameters of 2-3 feet. Average weight is 41 to 43 pounds per cubic foot.

Dries well with little degrade, small movement in service. Moderate resistance to cutting edges, however resin can clog cutting surfaces. Will hold nails and screws well and can be glued without problems.

When you talk about pine trees, you are talking about a vast number of species with a natural range extending from the Arctic Circle to the Equator in Europe, Asia and North America. There are more than 100 recognized pine species worldwide and 36 of them are North American natives. This column will highlight longleaf pine, a conifer with a rich past and important future.

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is the state tree of Alabama. Its natural growing area is the Southeastern United States, extending west to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Longleaf pine gets its name from its long needles, which typically range 8 to 18 inches in length. The trees have been described as quirky by some. Hugh Johnson, writes in the Encyclopedia of Trees, "Its real quirk is to crouch, a mere grassy mound of potential pine tree, for as much as three or four years before it starts to put on height. In its 'grass stage' it can survive forest fires and at the time build up a strong root system to boost its later growth."

A Famous Family
Longleaf pine is part of the group called Southern yellow pine. The Fine Hardwoods Selectorama's list of other pines in the group include shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata); loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and slash pine (Pinus elliottii).

In the book Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material, by the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, the editors explain that "the wood of the various southern pines is quite similar in appearance. The sapwood is yellowish white and heartwood reddish brown." The editors say that longleaf and slash pine are classed as heavy, strong, stiff, hard and moderately high in shock resistance, while shortleaf and loblolly pine are usually somewhat lighter in weight than longleaf. "All the southern pines have moderately large shrinkage, but are stable when properly seasoned," the editors note.

Users of longleaf pine report that the highly resinous material can be difficult to sand. Experts recommend using sharp tools and slow sanding, giving attention to abrasive materials to avoid a buildup of resins.

Strong and Useful
At one time, longleaf pines were considered to be one of the premiere commercial timbers in the U.S. The tree was excellent for heavy construction; longleaf pine has density and strength comparable to red oak, natural resistance to insects and decay, and long, straight trunks (old-growth trees averaged 125 feet tall). Uses for the timber included warehouses and factories, railroads, shipbuilding, bridges and wharves.

The trees also were the favored material for ship masts in North America and Europe, and they could net prices up to 30 percent higher than other conifers. They also contributed non-timber products such as pitch, tar, rosin and turpentine.

Southern pine trees remain an important commercial timber used in construction, furniture, plywood, pulp, craft paper, railroad ties, piling and shipbuilding. The trees continue to be a source for turpentine, resin and pine oil, which is used in cosmetics and perfume.

Rebirth and Recovery
At one time, longleaf pines covered as much as 90 million acres from Virginia to Louisiana. Today, there is just a fraction of the old growth timber left. According to the Southern Pine Council's Web site, "Because it has a slower rate of growth, longleaf pine was not replanted as widely as other faster growing species."

Because of its usefulness, though, efforts are underway to bring longleaf pine back. The Auburn University School of Foresty has founded the Longleaf Alliance to promote the ecological and economic values of longleaf pine. The group's Web site says that "Stands of longleaf offer more diversity, visual appeal, wildlife habitat, and high valued products than other pine species."

Old-growth longleaf pine, which yields lumber with more heartwood than second-growth trees, is one of many species being "rescued" from the bottom of lakes, rivers and swamps. George and Carol Goodwin run the Goodwin Heart Pine Co., in Micanopy, FL. They recover longleaf or "heart pine" as they call it, from river bottoms. Goodwin and his crew of divers don scuba gear to dive for the "sinkers," which are in remarkably good shape despite decades in the water. Goodwin says the low oxygen levels and low water temperatures preserve the logs.


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