Restoration of Longleaf Pine Ecosystems

Although most of the climax vegetation over the eastern United States is considered to be broadleaf deciduous forest, the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains are the most striking exception.

A complex landscape:

–      Grasslands

–      Savanna

–      Shrublands

–      Needle and broadleaved sclerophyllous woodland

–      Rich mesophytic forest

Complexity is maintained by fire


Coastal plain characteristics



Dominated by poor soils, sands, highly weathered clays

Humid, sub-tropical, rain year-round

Violent weather associated with convectional storms and hurricanes

Highest frequency of lightning strikes in N.A.

Pine barrens to the north

–      Pitch pine (P. rigida)

Xeric sand communities

–      Longleaf pine (P. palustris) and wiregrass (Aristida stricta)

Mesic pine communities

–      Slash pine (P. elliottii), oaks, poorly drained, complex, with many wetlands

Longleaf pine ecosystems

Once 38 million ha

Open and park-like, a product of frequent fires

Among the most species-rich systems outside of the tropics

Highly fragmented, fire suppressed

Currently around 1 million ha remain

50% in small, private holdings


Prior to fragmentation, fire return was every 2-8 y.

Long-leaf pine fire tolerant

–      Seedlings have thicker bark

–      “Grass” stage with no exposed cambium

–      Plant then bolts 1-2 m, beyond lethal reach of most surface fires


Brockway, D.G., K.W. Outcalt, D.J. Tomczak and E.E. Johnson. 2005. Restoration of Longleaf Pine Ecosystems. USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station.  General Technical Report SRS-83.


Restoration approaches that focus on the functions of an ecosystem will emphasize:

–      Species composition

–      Vertical structure

–      Horizontal pattern

–      Spatial heterogeneity

–      Processes

–      Resiliency from disturbances

–      Physical or mechanical treatments

–      Complete overstory harvesting

–      Selective thinning of overstory and midstory trees

–      Shredding or mowing of midstory and understory plant layers

Chemical treatments

–      Principally herbicide

–      To selectively remove undesirable plants

Prescribed fire

–      To reduce midstory, understory and occasionally overstory plants

–      To encourage fire-tolerant plants

–      Frequent fire is crucial for restoration

Restoration of long leaf pine first began on public lands to halt decline of red-cockaded woodpecker.


Restoration on public land

USDA Forest Service is major landholder

307,000 ha of LLP on National Forest land

Have implemented growing season burns on 3 to 4 year cycle

Mechanical removal and herbicide are used to augment fire

Loblolly pine (P. taeda) and slash pine are removed


Restoration on Department of Defense land

Eglin Air Force Base one of largest holdings

Healthy longleaf has been helped by fires started by training exercises

Much of longleaf degraded by scrub oaks

–      Used fire, mechanical and herbicides

–      Selectively removed sand pine (P. clausa)

Off-site slash pine and sand pine plantations converted to LLP

–      Manual planting was used, 90% containerized.