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Issues in Shortleaf Pine

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January 25, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about issues in shortleaf pine. Hello. I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with John Willis, Mississippi State University assistant professor in forestry.

John, what exactly is shortleaf pine, and how is it different from our other pine species?

John Willis: Yeah. Shortleaf pine is one of our four major economic species of pine. It's commonly referred to as our southern yellow pines, and it can be sold at the same level as loblolly or longleaf or slash pine. However, there are a couple differences that are really important to think about with shortleaf pine. One being is that just because of its growth strategy, it's not going to grow as fast as slash pine or loblolly pine.

The other is it actually has a very unique physiological characteristic in that it is one of the only pine species that can sprout. It will sprout only when it's young, but what this does is it allows it to recover from disturbances such as fire very well, whereas species like loblolly do not possess this ability to sprout after it's exited the seedling growth stage. Sprouting means where the top part of the plant that you can see above ground will die back, but you'll get a new stem emerging from dormant buds below ground.

Amy Myers: Okay. I don't see as much shortleaf pine as I do loblolly. Why is this?

John Willis: Yeah, that's actually a very interesting story. It's been coined the pine that got left behind. The issue with shortleaf pine was actually not related to quality. It was actually the first species that when the timber companies came down to the South, they identified as first as taking it out of the woods because it grew so straight. It was such a majestic tree. So it was removed a lot back in the '20s and '30s.

After that, as we've developed the forest industry, and specifically as we've improved loblolly pine and some of its growth characteristics, actually the opposite thing happened. People are cutting shortleaf out of the woods because it was slower growing then some of our modified loblolly pines.

So in two different stages of its history, it's been cut out of the woods selectively. And the other huge aspect with shortleaf pine is due to its ability to sprout, it actually grew and proliferated really well across landscape when we were burning. So when frequent fires were happening across landscape, loblolly would die back, and you can get shortleaf pine sprouting back. And so that was a very key mechanism in promoting shortleaf on the landscape.

Amy Myers: And how does shortleaf compare to loblolly pine?

John Willis: The important thing to keep in mind is that shortleaf is not going to outgrow loblolly. So if your goal is production minded and growing timber quickly, shortleaf might not be for you. But in terms of quality, it'll compare very well with loblolly pine. The other really important and very key aspect with shortleaf is it is a more drought tolerant species than loblolly. So if you have property that has very droughty soils or on a hillside that are going to be prone to having dry conditions, then shortleaf could be a better species in those scenarios than loblolly.

Amy Myers: And who would you recommend to manage shortleaf pine?

John Willis: Well, again, I don't believe that shortleaf is an appropriate species for a landowner who is trying to maximize timber production. The growth limitations of the species just aren't going to allow you to do that. But in terms of wildlife management, if you're trying to grow timber and manage for wildlife, it's actually quite good because of its ability to withstand fire, to sprout back, and to just be a natural component of the ecosystem. And so I think there is a place for shortleaf on the landscape for some landowners, and I think it should be considered.

Amy Myers: But for like, I guess, growing timber for poles and for housing and for utility poles, what variety would that include?

John Willis: If my goal is to grow for poles or timber, it's important to keep in mind that shortleaf ... The timber that is produced is just as good as loblolly. The issue is that it's going to take you longer to do it. And so depending on your ownership goals and economically what you're trying to achieve, if you're trying to do it quickly, I would still use some of the modified loblolly or in the southern part of the state, I would even opt toward using longleaf.

But if your goal is to have some wildlife management and to do some production, but you're not necessarily in a huge hurry to do that, then shortleaf would perfectly appropriate.

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with John Willis, Mississippi State University assistant professor in forestry. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Forestry

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