The tallest of Florida’s pines, longleaf pine also has the longest needles, more than a foot long. Favored for lumber, most of the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast have been logged, but you can still immerse in impressive longleaf pine stands on Florida’s trails.
To cope with the frequent lightning-sparked fires that rage across sandhills and pine flatwoods, the longleaf pine has a thick, protected fire-resistant stem during the first five years of its life, while it concentrates on building up an extensive root system.
In a sudden growth spurt of up to three feet in a single season, a longleaf pine reaches the candle stage, looking like a giant bottlebrush. Side limbs begin to form, making the young longleaf look like a furry mimic of a saguaro cactus.
If the pine catches fire, the needles direct the flames away from the stem, burning quickly to ash. From its protected root system and stem, the pine regenerates anew. Longleaf pine is the most long-lived of Florida’s pines, and the most endangered.
Due to the popularity of its tough heartwood, the longleaf was one of the first pines to be commercially logged in the United States; its slow growth led to other pines being planted in its place. Less than 2% of the original longleaf forests of the southeastern United States remain.