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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Longleaf Pine

Longleaf Pine

(Pinus palustris Mill.)


Prior to European settlement of the state, the longleaf pine forest dominated the eastern North Carolina landscape. Two hundred years of clearing for agriculture, logging without reforestation, hog grazing and, ironically, wildfire control have reduced this forest to a mere remnant of its original size.

Young longleaf pine forms one of the most striking features of the southern forest. As a seedling, it resembles a clump of grass. Longleaf begins height-growth at two to 10 years of age, when it forms a handsome plume of sparkling green.

Longleaf pine is appropriately named for its long, drooping, lustrous bright green needles. The needles are 8 to 15 inches long in three-leaf clusters that are crowded into dense tufts toward the ends of the stout branches. The large, silvery white, shiny buds (called "candles" when they begin to grow) make longleaf pine easily recognizable among other forest trees.

The longleaf cone is the largest of the southern pine cones, at 6 to 10 inches long. Cone scales are tipped with spines. Longleaf cones mature during their second season and drop shortly after releasing their seed in September to November.

The thick bark of mature 70 year old trees is orange-brown or reddish-brown and is separated into large plates with thin scales. The tree commonly is 80 to 100 feet tall, with trunk diameter of 2 to 2 1/2 feet.

Longleaf pines grow on a variety of sites, the most favorable being well-drained, sandy soils. Longleaf pine has a tall, straight trunk and an irregular crown made up of stout and heavy gnarled or twisted branches.

Longleaf once was used for commercial production of naval stores (pitch, tar, resin, and turpentine). Today, it primarily is used for poles, piling, lumber and plywood. The heartwood is heavy, hard, strong, tough and durable. The seeds are a favorite source of food for wild turkey, gray and fox squirrels and many other wild animals.

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