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Florida pines

By Staff | Mar 31, 2017

The fire alert for our area of Florida is in very high; the canals are being depleted; we have less than two weeks left before they are dried up. We may have to go to one day a week watering, or buy excess reclaimed water from Fort Myers, metering irrigation and building a reservoir, which will take 18 months to implement. We see smoky skies all most daily. June needs to be here before we have relief with the rains. Water conservation is urgent at this time.

The National Federa-tion of Garden Clubs, partnering with the USDA Forest service, has a Pennies for Pines going, where you donate lose change to their pot. Federal funds go to the Forestry Service to refurbish our forests.

At the recent Master Gardener meeting, we were asked to name the number of pine species in Florida – a question on the tests the newly graduated December Master Gardeners needed to know. We received free samples of slash pine seedlings as well. The recent grads had a step up on the rest of us, so now we have to learn the five native pines and two introduced pines of Florida.

Pine trees are important to Florida’s economy as well as our ecosystem. Each of these seven species grows best in a particular environment. Evergreens, pine trees are gymnosperns, meaning they belong to plants that reproduce by seeds but don’t flower or fruit. Their reproduction is by male and female cones on the same tree, called “strombili.” Males produce the pollen that blows with the wind onto the female cones, fertilizing the ovules. Some seeds develop inside the tightly closed female cone for at least two years, while others keep their cones tightly closed, firm and hard, only releasing them in response to a fires heat. That is why there are prescribed burns. Many forests depend on these burns to clean up, get rid of old diseased plants, clearing the way for younger and healthier plants. It opens up the canopy for new growth.

Pines also produce “oleoresins” chemical compounds used in manufacturing. This is obtained by removing bark and cutting slashes in the trunk. It was very popular in the 19th century for waterproofing wooden ships. Steel ship manufacturing lead to the lack of needing resin, so the pine plantations produce wood for pulpwood and lumber.

The native pines are Loblolly, Pinus taeda L., that prefers good loamy soil, not wet ground or sandy soils. Known as “old field pine,” it often invades abandoned agricultural fields. New improvements have made it the industry standard for new pine plantations in Florida. It is often confused with slash pine, but the cones tell the difference. Loblloly pines grow up to 80 to 100 feet high with the high crown that droops gracefully.

Longleaf pine, Pinus palustris Mill, as juvenile seedlings, look like dense grass growths above ground. This lasts from 3 to 20 years (generally 5-7) while it is busy developing a root system. When done developing roots, it grows rapidly, eventually reaching 80 to 100 feet. Found in areas along with the turkey oak on flat gravely sandy soils. Over 200 years of logging and land clearing have reduced their number. Commonly found in the central portion of our state and in the Panhandle, restoration is under way in all of Florida to aid in its expansion.

Pond pine, Pinus serotina Michx, often confused with the Loblolly, grows in poorly drained flatlands near bayheads and ponds. They are also known as “pocosins,” are small with sometimes twisted trunks; holding onto their seeds for 8 years unless there is a forest fire. Pine species that have late opening cones are said to be “serotinous.”

Sand pine, Pinus clausa (Chapm.ed Engelm.) Vasy ex sag., grows in very sandy, nutrient poor soil. It is a small to medium tree with a conical crown and low, lateral branches. Found along our coastal areas and interior on infertile acid soils. The short trunks and branches are generally twisted, making it unsuitable for wood; its high levels of oils and other compounds make it unsuitable for pulpwood, so it’s primarily used for fuel and firewood. With two varieties of sand pine in Florida, the Choctawhatchee have cones that open at maturity; the Ocala’s pine cones stay closed until a fire. The genetically improved Choctawhatchee is best for Christmas trees and may be shaped and pruned.

Shortleaf pine, Pinus echinata Mil., is found on dry hills and upland areas in the Panhandle. It has a hedgehog, prickly appearance.

Slash pine, Pinus elliottii Englelm, was the common pine tree throughout Florida. Taking about 30 years to reach timber size, it was once the primary source of resin (turpentine and rosin). There are two varieties of slash pines, the common Pinus elliotti var elliottii and the Pinus elliottii var densa found in the southernmost part of the state, with smaller cones and longer needles.

Spruce pine, Pinus glabra Walter, is a short-needled pine found in hardwood hammocks in the Panhandle, loves moist, sandy loam and grows to 80 to 115 feet.

The two introduced pines are the Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii Parl., because of its salt tolerance. This bonsai tree can reach 130 feet but only in zones 6 through 8b, meaning it can only grow in the Panhandle; and Virginia pine, Pinus virginiana Mill., whose range is limited to the eastern United States, so Florida growers are experimenting to introduce it as a replacement for local Christmas trees, its performance is low.

Trees with pine in their titles are Australian and the Norfolk Island pines, which are neither conifers nor gymnosperms. Both are listed on the noxious weed list, and are Category I invasives.

If you need to know how to identify the various pines, go online to obtain the document FOR21. It explains the different Florida pine species.

Thank these trees. “May the Forest be with you.”

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.