What Is a Shortleaf Pine Forest?

In the early 1900s, shortleaf pine forests were everywhere in the eastern U.S. In pure stands or in mixed shortleaf pine/oak savanna ecosystems, they grew on more than 280 million acres from southeastern New York to northern Florida, and west to eastern Texas. Shortleaf pines were so common that they supplied the nation with more than one-fifth of its southern yellow pine lumber.

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The secret of the shortleaf’s success was its adaptability. It grows well in a variety of soils, including thin, rocky and nutrient-poor soils, and tolerates a wider range of temperatures and moisture levels than other southern pines. It also tolerates fire—its seedlings have a sharp bend in their stems that keep the root collar below the forest’s litter layer and safe from damaging heat during a fire. This enables the seedlings to resprout from the root collar and keep growing, even if the seedling is burned.

But despite its ability to adapt and survive, the shortleaf’s dominance turned into a decline that has drastically reduced its range—and continues to threaten it today.

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