Longleaf Pine Wood
The Tree: Family Pinus palustris
tree can grow as much as 100 feet in height taking 100-150 years
to come to full size and needs 50-70 years of growth just to produce
seeds, but then can live 300 years or more. It dominated the southeastern
coastal plains of the United States hundreds of years ago extending
from Virginia to the Florida keys and along the Gulf of Mexico to
Texas, covering an estimated 60 million acres.
It was prized as a wood for early log homes and was protected
by the English for sailing masts, being well known for its great
resistance to termites and wet rot. In fact it is the most resinous
of the pine trees and was used as the primary source of turpentine,
as well as pitch,tar and resin in the late 1800's. It was the turpentine
industry that aided in its demise. Trees, tapped of their resin
soon became susceptible to fire and disease.
By the early 1900's extensive logging for rail lines consumed large
inventories of the longleaf pine that were then replaced with faster
growth species for the pulp industry.
Historically it beat out all the competitors on the forest floor
the minute forest fires swept the area, with its incredibly fire
resistant thick scaly reddy-brown bark that insulated the interior
of the tree from the heat. It allowed its genetics to outcompete
the other species, but in the mid 1900's as humankind developed
more effective fire suppression techniques longleaf pine lost its
strategic advantage. That combined with logging and the turpentine
industry the longleaf pine struggled for survival.
Today it is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence as the states
of Florida and North Carolina spend large dollars to restore this
tree on thousands of acres of land. It is the quality of its lumber
that has attracted the needed dollars to support its restoration.
Even the needles that cover the forest floor are harvested for
garden mulch, supporting a multi million dollar wholesale industry
for what is known as "longleaf pine straw".
The challenge today is to replicate the forest fire regime that
spurs the growth of this species and the important understory species
that coexist in its fire driven ecosystem.
It is interesting to note that the military testing activities
at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's northwest have actually
"accidentally" caused fires that supported and encourage
the growth of this pine. Today military bases in the south east
play a significant role in longleaf pine restoration projects.
Common Names: Yellow or Heart
pine, Longstraw or Georgia Pine. In the trade it is grouped with
other species and referred to as a sourthern pine (shortleaf, slash,
Longleaf Pine Uses:
Historical the great heights of the typical longleaf pine log and
its strength combined with a great resistance to rot, was prized
for exterior beams for bridges, trestles and docks, structural posts,
masts and piles.
Current inventory is young, and mostly batched with traditional
southern pines for construction material and plywood.
Properties of Longleaf Pine Wood:
The sap wood is white typical of most pines and the heartwood is
reddish brown and typically begins to form when the tree is about
20 years old.
Given that this tree has only recently been reforested and most
plantations are of fairly young trees, the current inventory can
not be compared to the old growth logs. The latter were predominantly
comprised of very rot resistant heartwood. Today our trees are younger
and smaller, almost all sapwood and like most trees the sapwood
does not share these decay resistant characteristics.
The traditional published tech tables suggest that longleaf pine
shrinks both radially (5.1%) and tangentially (7.5%) at higher percentages
than most pines making it a wood that requires some attention in
the drying cycle.
As a construction lumber, finishing rarely becomes an issue, but
certainly if this comes across your bench and you decide to use
it as a woodworking wood you may want to experiment with finishes
and their durability. Resinous pines are NOT the easiest to get
a quality finish.