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  HOME WOOD LIBRARY Longleaf Pine Wood

Longleaf Pine Wood

The Tree: Family Pinus palustris
longleaf pine strawThe 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, loblolly)

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.

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theWoodbox.com Jan 2007