Longleaf Ecosystem

The longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the world. It’s home to 68 migratory and resident birds, 900 plants, 30 threatened and endangered species, and numerous other insects mammals, reptiles and amphibians. This ecosystem was shaped over thousands of years by frequent fires caused by lightening strikes that result in a longleaf pine-dominated canopy, an open midstory with grasses and herbaceous groundcover in the understory.

General Information

Introduction to the Longleaf Ecosystem (video) (Produced by Exploring North Carolina, LLC, with support from North Carolina State University and America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative)
This video provides a look at the longleaf ecosystem and some of the many plants and animals that live there.

Longleaf Pine Forests (N.C. Longleaf Coalition)
Frequent fires caused by lightning strikes shaped the longleaf forest for thousands of years, resulting in a unique forest home to many endemic plants and animals that require fire or habitats created by fire to survive.

What is a Longleaf Pine Forest? (American Forest Foundation)
Longleaf pines thrive where low-intensity fires are frequent. That’s because their seeds fall to the ground and must stay in contact with the soil to germinate and grow. If leaf litter and debris pile up on the forest floor, as they do in forests where fires are suppressed, the seeds can’t take root.

Longleaf Pine Ecosystems (Sandhills Ecological Institute)
Fire is essential for longleaf pine regeneration and for many other fire adapted plants to produce seed. Surveys of herbaceous ground cover species within longleaf pine ecosystems yield the highest diversity for any North American community subjected to routine fire

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve (N.C. State Parks)
Longleaf pine forests are plant communities that adapted long ago to periodic burning, and their survival depends upon fire. The original forests were maintained by natural fires that usually were caused by lightning.

Where to See Longleaf Forests (American Forest Foundation)
This is a list of longleaf pine forests open to the public in the Southeast.

Why Are Longleaf Pines Important? (American Forest Foundation)
If burned regularly so that their natural rhythms are restored, longleaf pine forests become rich, stable ecosystems that can support a vast diversity of plants and wildlife. Studies have shown that mature longleaf ecosystems support up to 40 species per square yard, and are home to upwards of 30 threatened and endangered species.

Plants and Wildlife

Longleaf Habitats (The Longleaf Alliance)
For thousands of years, subtle differences in soils and topography influenced fire behavior, site productivity etc. which, in turn, influenced the composition of the forest, e.g., groundcover plants, insect and animal species, and tree height, just to name a few. These habitat types can generically be lumped into four groups; montane, sandhill, rolling hill, and flatwoods/savannas.

Longleaf Animal and Plant Gallery (The Longleaf Alliance)
This website provides photographs and information about some of the many plants and animals that live in the longleaf ecosystem.

Plants, Wildlife and Longleaf Pine (American Forest Foundation)
Here are some of the many animals that live in the longleaf pine ecosystem.

Dry Longleaf Pine Ecosystems (N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission)
Longleaf pine habitats can range from moist to very well drained sites, including Mesic Pine Flatwoods, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Xeric Sandhill Scrub, and Coastal Fringe Sandhill.

Venus Flytrap (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Venus flytrap occupies distinct longleaf pine habitats in the two regions of the Carolinas – Coastal Plain and the Sandhills.

Carnivorous Plants: North Carolina’s State Treasures (The Nature Conservancy)
More than half of the carnivorous plant species in the United States are native to North Carolina, including pitcher plants, flytraps and sundews.

NRCS Plant Guide for Longleaf Pine
Grooveless stone axes and adzes found in archaeological contexts in the southeastern United States reflect considerable native American use of wood resources in southeastern forests. This article highlights some of the many uses of longleaf pine.

Flora and Fauna of the Longleaf Pine-Grassland Ecosystem (Sherpa Guides)
This article highlights the plants and animals found in the longleaf ecosystem.

Understory

Understory Restoration in Longleaf Pine Ecosystems (U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station)
Longleaf pine trees once rose to the sky on more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, towering over grasses and flowers and providing habitat for many animals that are now rare. Returning degraded ecosystems to longleaf pine forests is a priority for many managers and organizations.

Under the Longleaf Pine Canopy (U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station)
This publication provides a comparative analysis how different methods of timber harvesting and forest regeneration affect understory species such as shrubs, grasses and other flowering plants.

Native Groundcover Restoration (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
The longleaf pine (LLP) ecosystem includes some of the most species-rich plant communities outside the tropics, and most of that diversity is in the groundcover vegetation. The groundcover harbors many rare plant species, enhances the habitat for resident fauna, and produces fuel needed to carry surface fires that perpetuate the system.

Restoration in the Understory: Groundcover Species in Longleaf Pine Ecosystems (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
The South Carolina Longleaf Pine Ground-Layer Common Garden Study compared how well native plant species from relatively wide-ranging geographical regions grew and flowered in a common location.

21st Century Fire Ecology in the South (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
U.S. Forest Service researchers are using an array of high technologies to understand the interactions among fuels, fire and plant diversity that underlie the success of prescribed fire in longleaf pine ecosystems.

Restoration

Oaks: An Unrecognized Ally in Longleaf Pine Restoration (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
This study found that on dry sites, the presence of oak facilitates longleaf seedling survival, especially when the seedlings are less than two years old.

Reforestation With Longleaf Pine After Hurricane Damage (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
In some areas of the South, one idea for reducing the vulnerability of forests to disturbance involves recreating the ecosystems that existed before they were replaced by loblolly pine plantations.

There’s More to Restoration Than Planting Trees  (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
Discussions about longleaf pine restoration tend to focus on planting seedlings, managing hardwood competition, and using prescribed fire, but ecosystem restoration also involves bringing back the groundcover that makes longleaf pine forests some of the richest plant communities on our planet.

Climate Influences Male-Female Balance in Longleaf Pines (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
A recent study found that temperature changes may be related to a shift in the density of longleaf pine pollen. Their findings have implications for cone crops, seed production, and future long-term sustainability.

The Relationship Between Climate and Seed Production in Longleaf Pine (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
The longleaf pine tree is a finicky and slow seed producer, and scientists have long suspected that fluctuations in seed production are related to climate.

The Complexities of Longleaf Pine Cone Production (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station)
Longleaf pine trees produce seeds sporadically. This makes natural regeneration a challenge.

Regrowing Longleaf Pines (American Forest Foundation)
The loss of longleaf pines has taken a significant economic and environmental toll on the woodlands of the South, and it will continue unless landowners step in to help. That’s why many landowners are now working hard to bring them back, planting and managing the trees in places where they once grew.