Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata) - Carolina Piedmont

Shortleaf Pine woodland with Post Oak (Quercus stellata) and Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica), Durham Co., NC

Increased attention is being focused on shortleaf pine by some foresters, ecologists, and restoration practitioners. An ongoing debate centers on how much shortleaf was present historically relative to the other native pines and hardwoods. We may never know the answer, however, it seems probable in our region (N.C. Piedmont) that mixed forest prevailed. According to Pinchot & Ashe 1897, "....no areas in the original forest...produce pure growth of either"

{The native range of Pinus echinata}
Range Map for Pinus echinata;

Although the preceeding map shows shortleaf ranging into the outer coastal plain there is general consensus that most of this area was historically dominated by other vegetation, especially longleaf pine woodlands and savannas. However, in the Piedmont there are intriguing "remnants" of shortleaf woodlands or savannas which share structural and compositional similarities with longleaf pine communities. 

Open Shortleaf Pine with herbaceous
understory including Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Open Shortleaf "savanna"
 another view of well burned patch in Durham Co, NC

There is growing recognition that prescribed fire is an important management and ecological restoration tool in many shortleaf pine stands. To return long-suppressed stands to more open condition (such as the images above) frequent, regular fire is desirable. We try to burn these areas in the early spring on a 2-3 year rotation. 

Shortleaf Pine - Oak Forest; Spring 2014 prescribed fire
In the stand above, the nearly closed canopy from abundant oaks, especially Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata), allows only patchy sunlight to reach the forest floor. Although fuel conditions were quite dry, the lack of sunlight penetration and wind movement underneath the trees and relative humidity in the high 30's fostered slow moving low flames and incomplete ground coverage.  

May 2014 Prescribed Fire in Shortleaf Pine - Oak Forest. Poverty Oat Grass (Danthonia spicata) is abundant and flowering in the left side of this view.  Patches of live green vegetation contributed to patchy coverage of this growing season burn.

Shortleaf Pine sapling on site burned ~ biennially for 10 years.
The small needles provide less surface for ice damage
than loblolly pine (Pinus taeda),
possibly explaining  its more northerly distribution.

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