Slash pines and longleaf pines are both integral elements of Florida’s pine forests. Because its canopy isn’t as thick as other canopy trees, like oaks, lower plants can still absorb sunlight while still being sheltered by the slash pine. Many birds also love to call this tree home, including owls, eagles, and egrets. Pileated woodpeckers are also often attracted to slash pines. Squirrels and other small animals can find a nutritious meal in the needles of a slash pine and protection in its dense foliage from bad weather. Longleaf pines received their name because of their distinctive needlelike leaves, which are the longest of any pine and can grow up to 18 inches long. To add to the impressive story of the longleaf pine, they can grow up to 100 feet tall and live for hundreds of years. When forest fires sweep through an area and clean out the underbrush build up, the longleaf pine survives and can sometimes create pure stands.
Because they are fast growers, slash pines are often used in residential and commercial landscapes. Florida is a great place to grow slash pines because they prefer warm and humid climates with rainy summers and dry winters. In fact, the slash pine is the most commonly sold pine for home landscapes in Florida. Longleaf pines, on the other hand, are not very friendly for home landscapes because they take many years to grow. The Longleaf Pine Preserve in Deland, Florida and the Ocala National Forest, located between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers, are great places to see longleaf pines in their natural environments.
Both slash pines and longleaf pines have a long history of being cut down for human use. Slash pines in particular have been used for naval stores because of the gum they produce. Longleaf pines also have a history with the British Navy. Longleaf pine stands were often selected and set aside by the English Crown specifically for their navy. They are used today for the manufacturing of various products. Unfortunately for the longleaf pine, they have been so overused and cut down to make way for human development that only three percent of their original numbers in the southeastern United States still exist. Thankfully, conservation efforts are well underway thanks to the Longleaf Alliance and others who are dedicated to saving this endangered tree.
Slash pines and longleaf pines are just as integral to Florida’s landscape as the palm tree. While they may not come to mind immediately, they are both important members of their ecosystems and provide necessary services to their surroundings. Without these trees, Florida wouldn’t be the same.