A Walk In the Longleaf Pines

Happy New Year to ALL!  Enjoy this piece by Eleanor Sommers, a member of the Paynes Prairie Chapter. If you or your chapter has a story to tell that includes something about Florida native plants, let us know. We'd love to host more guest bloggers. Email us at fnps.online@gmail.com with your ideas and plant some Florida native plants to celebrate 2011.   Ginny & Sue



A Walk along a Longleaf Pine Trail

If you haven’t explored the Longleaf Ecology and Forestry Society’s (LEAFS) trails in eastern Alachua County near Waldo consider doing so next time you are in the area. This private demonstration project has been designed to show small private landowners (100 acres or less) how to “harmoniously and profitably” restore and sustain a longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) habitat using fire, selective harvesting, and replanting of desired species. Once reestablished, the habitat can be “maintained and utilized for the production of forestry products (LEAFS brochure).” Fire is a major part of the restoration efforts, and it is used in ways that mimic how these habitats would have naturally burned prior to human intervention. LEAFS proposes a sensible balance for sustaining conservation lands without stripping owners of value and income from their properties.


Vanillaleaf (Carphephorus spp)

My husband Paul and I and our neighbor Joni Ellis recently strolled through the short (1/2 mile) self-guided interpretive trail off County Road 1471 just northeast of Highway 301. Although it was obvious that Florida is suffering severe drought conditions, we enjoyed identifying late fall seed heads and finding the occasional flower still in bloom. We saw ghostly patches of goldenrods (Solidago spp), blazing start (Liatris spp), deer tongue and vanillaleaf plant (Carphephorus paniculatas and C. odaratissimus), and silk grass (Pityopsis graminilfolia), as well as graceful Andropogon species swaying in the breeze and floating seeds into the midday sun. Some gallberries (Ilex glabra) remained on the bushes awaiting the interest of a passing animal or birds. We did not see much wildlife although several nut hatches called to us from atop the pine trees.

Young longleaf pines don't produce
branches until they are taller. This way
they have more fire resistance.
As the winter sun angled low in the northwest and an afternoon chill descended, I thought about our ancestors trying to eke out a living in these sandy flatlands, thick with longleaf pines and saw palmettos (Serenoa repens). Before the settlers descended on Florida, pine flatlands covered two-thirds of the state. For sure these pioneers used everything they could, and the magnificent longleaf pine habitats fell into decline. Early Florida settlers used the pines for building shelter and tools and then the barren flat land for farming. The saps, resins, and cellulose from pines were processed into soaps, pitch, and turpentine. Wood not used for building was made into charcoal. The resin is antiseptic and has many medicinal uses, including healing skin salves. A dye can be made from the needles, which can also brewed into a healing tea rich in vitamins A and C. (Chop them finely and steep in boiling water.) And of course, if you can get to them before the squirrels, you can roast the edible winged nuts inside the scales of the cones.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of the Pinus palustris contributed to the demise of hundreds of thousands of acres of arresting habit. Fortunately, many state and private organizations are attempting to reestablish these native environments. LEAFS is doing so in practical ways that allow owners as well ecosystems to benefit. For more information about LEAFS go to http://longleafs.info/. The LEAFS tracts, each of about 90 acres, are located in northeastern Alachua County, Florida, on County Road 1471. The nearest town is Waldo, midway between Starke and Gainesville. The turnoff onto County Road 1471 from U. S. Highway 301 is about 2 1/2 miles southeast of Waldo.

Eleanor K. Sommer
Paynes Prairie Chapter
www.myherbalnotebook.com

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