While the Conservancy’s work in the area is centered on the longleaf, it isn’t all about the tree.
“It is a convenient name to put upon this whole area, but it is so much more than just one tree. It is the blackwater and brownwater river systems, swamps, uplands, and estuarine” explains Dan Ryan, who heads the Chapter's longleaf work. “With that amount of variety, it makes for quite an interesting place to work. Challenging in the complexities of conservation values and threats to those values, but it is always rewarding.”
The longleaf forest itself is not a mono-species kind of place.
“This is one of the most diverse systems in the world – second only to the rain forest,” explains Bill Pickens, who has spent 25 years managing longleaf pine for the North Carolina Forest Service.
Hervey McIver, who manages acquisitions for the Conservancy’s longleaf program agrees. “The wet savannas, which are mostly found in the outer coastal plain, have the highest density of species in a grassland in the world at a per square meter level,” he says. “There is something blooming there from February to Christmas. You can read the season by the color of the blooms. You have whites in spring, yellows and pinks in summer, purples and yellows in the fall.”
“There is more going on under the tree than in the tree itself,” explains Southeastern Coastal Plain Conservation Coordinator Sara Babin. “Longleaf pine doesn’t just mean trees to me. It is all about the diversity that includes the understory, what lives in the trees and larger mammals.”
In addition to the red-cockaded woodpecker, several federally endangered plants species also live in the system. A few years ago, McIver was honored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for his work to protect one of them – golden sedge, which is only found in the small area in Pender and Onslow counties. “The beauty is in the subtleties compared to the mountains and the coastline,” McIver explains. “Elevation changes in the scale of inches can have dramatic influences on species composition. You’ll have just a tiny rise and there will be a whole different suite of grasses and wildflowers. It really is just inches.”