You are here

Good, Bad & Ugly of Managing Long Leaf Pine

Filed Under:
June 7, 2019

Announcer: Farm and family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of managing longleaf pine. Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with John Willis, Mississippi State University Assistant Extension Professor of Forestry. John, longleaf pine planting has become a little more popular these days. Why exactly has longleaf pine become more popular in forestry?

John Willis: That's an excellent question. I think there's really two reasons why longleaf has really increased in popularity. The first is, I think people have actually become aware of the fact that longleaf once was the dominant pine species throughout south and central Mississippi. The other aspect has been there's been a huge push in restoring longleaf and associated with that has been economic cost share programs where people would become eligible if they were to plant a longleaf pine on a historically longleaf pine site.

Another reason why people are really becoming interested in longleaf pine is the development of a pine  straw market. Now, this is primarily in south Mississippi, but land owners should be aware that they do receive a premium for longleaf needles compared to loblolly. So there's an economic incentive, which I think is also helping promote the species.

Amy Myers: What are some differences between longleaf and loblolly pine?

John Willis: The main difference is that longleaf pine has a grass stage. It's sort of, it's not unique amongst pines, but it's unique amongst the southern pines. There are four big southern pine species and that it does not initiate high growth right away. It appears to be a clump of grass. Really what this is is an adaptation to fire to where it keeps its [mara 00:01:45] stems protected in the long clumps of grass in the near or below ground. So if a frequent fire were to come along, it burns over the needles and protects the mara stem. Now it will not initiate high growth until it has about a one inch diameter at its root collar. That can take anywhere between two to seven years in the grass stage.

Amy Myers: There are some trade offs when planting each of these. What would you like to say about that?

John Willis: Associated with the grass stage is going to be a delay in growth. Anytime that you have a delay in growth, you're going to have a longer rotation. So land owners can expect to add another 5 to 10 years onto a timber rotation if they're growing longleaf compared to loblolly. The other thing that's really critically important is you have to be able to burn. Longleaf pine and fire are inextricably ... or they're inseparable, I should say. Part of that is due to it not growing up initially, so you need to keep the competition off of it. The other is a native fungal pathogen called brown spot needle blight that actually the management treatment that we use is we burn off the needle blight on the needles. Then the seedlings regrow clean needles. So those are the two reasons why fire is so important. So if you live in an area where it's difficult to burn, it's also very difficult to manage longleaf pine.

Amy Myers: What are some considerations to make when planting longleaf pine?

John Willis: The first thing is the fire issue. You have to be able to to frequently burn your property every two or three years. So if you live near roadways, hospital, chicken coops, any area where smoke creation, could be a problem, you may think about managing different species. Another issue that I like to bring up is markets. Anytime you're growing a crop, you have to be aware of the markets. A lot of longleaf, with it's pine straw and with its ability to produce utility poles can get you access to premium markets. But if those premium markets do not exist in your area, then there's really not an economic incentive to be growing longleaf pine.

Amy Myers: So for folks that might be considering planting longleaf pine, is there an area in the state of Mississippi that's better to plant longleaf pine?

John Willis: Well, in Mississippi, there's a pretty hard line. Basically if you're in Lauderdale County, heading south, you are okay planting longleaf pine. Anywhere north of there, longleaf becomes troublesome because of the ice. It just doesn't do very well. So I wouldn't recommend landowners plant it if your property is north of Lauderdale County.

Amy Myers: Okay. So for more information, if folks go to the College of Forest Resources website, which is C-F-R dot M-S state dot edu, then how would they be able to find some contacts if they need advice or anything about this subject?

John Willis: Sure. Just look up faculty members and Dr. Glenn Hughes or myself, Dr. John Willis, would be good resources to start with.

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with John Willis, Mississippi State University Extension Assistant Professor of Forestry. I'm Amy Myers. This has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Select Your County Office