Shortleaf Pine

One of the southern yellow pine trees that have native populations in Frederick County is the shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). There are some small populations of this tree scattered around Sugarloaf Mountain and College Mountain. Shortleaf pines has the widest range of the southern yellow pines extending from Northern Florida northward to New York State, and westward to Texas.

Shortleaf Pine

Courtesy North Carolina State University

Shortleaf pines prefers sandy to somewhat rocky, well-drained soils, and can be found in a wide variety of sites, ranging from stream bottoms up to rocky ridges. The short leaf pine does not tolerate heavy clay soils, and it frequently contracts little leaf disease if it is planted on poorly drained soils. This tree is considered to be shade intolerant, meaning that it will not germinate or grow in shady conditions. Shortleaf pine develops a prominent tap root, which can be very extensive in a large tree. It exhibits slow initial growth as the tap root develops, but it maintains a steady development well into maturity. Shortleaf pines are very wind firm, living up to 250 years, and grow to a large size.

Shortleaf pines have thick, platy bark and serotinous cones, which enable them to withstand moderate forest fires or to reseed after a strong forest fire. This pine also has the ability to send up root sprouts after a strong fire. For these reasons, the pine is considered to be a fire dependent species. This means that the pine has the ability to flourish after a fire burns some woodland. Shortleaf pine is part of the southern yellow pine contingent which includes loblolly, slash, and longleaf pine. These pine trees are very important to the economy of the rural south, harvested for lumber, plywood, veneer, paper, and other forest products. The shortleaf pine has very little taper in its log, which makes it a good candidate for telephone poles. It produces resins that can be distilled into turpentine and other chemicals, as well as for medicines mostly used for the treatment of respiratory ailments.

Bark of a Shortleaf Pine

Photo by FCFCDB member

Despite its extensive range and adaptability to a wide variety of site conditions, the shortleaf pine component found in many forests has declined dramatically in the last 30 years, some as much as 50%. This may be due to a number of factors, including:

  • The suppression of wildfires and the reduction of prescribed burns employed for pine management.
  • Changing logging practices that do not create ideal conditions for the establishment and growth of shade intolerant species such as shortleaf pine.
  • Preferential planting of loblolly pine over shortleaf pine.
  • Hybridizing of shortleaf pine with pitch and loblolly pine, and extensive outbreaks of southern pine beetles.

Given this decline, a group concerned about the restoration of shortleaf pine was started, known as the Shortleaf Pine Initiative. The Shortleaf Pine Initiative is concentrating on restoring short leaf pine ecosystems by employing educational programs, replanting shortleaf pine, and managing suitable habitat to promote the natural seeding and growth of short leaf pine. The Maryland State Tree Nursery has been growing shortleaf pine for reforestation purposes for the last couple of years. So the next time you are thinking about planting some pine trees, consider adding this Frederick County native to your planting list.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature note for 2/16/20