Longleaf pine forests are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, containing rare plants and animals not found anywhere else. Some of the showiest and best known species occur in this region including Venus flytraps, federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, native orchids, and fox squirrels.
Longleaf pine once blanketed 90 million acres of coastal plain and sandhills from Texas to Virginia. At its lowest point, longleaf pine had shrunk to just 3 million acres out of its historic 90 million acre range. Why the loss? Longleaf pines aren’t able to survive and thrive without fire. And, neither are its forest compatriots. Sadly, recent decades of fire suppression and development have taken their toll.
In the past five years, The Nature Conservancy has planted more than 700,000 longleaf seedlings in North Carolina. Each year we burn thousands of acres of longleaf forest. We have bought thousands of acres of forest that was once home to longleaf, but are now filled with other pine trees such as loblolly. Because loblolly pine is fast growing, only needing a couple decades before its ready for the pulp mill, businesses looking for short term financial gain prefer it. Longleaf pine, in contrast, take a hundred years to mature. No one who plants a longleaf seedling today expects to see it as a mature tree, so there's less immediate profit.
Today, with concentrated effort, the longleaf pine has rebounded to cover 4.4 million acres.
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Longleaf pine forests are home to a diverse community of plants and animals.
Each stage of the longleaf pine tree's remarkable life cycle is suited to its environment.
Fire helps the plants and animals of longleaf forests thrive.
The Conservancy is working with landowners to use controlled burns to manage longleaf forests on their property.
Longleaf pine gave the tar heel state its name and helped land the allies at Normandy.