Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year’s longleaf seedling planting: For posterity and more

Here’s how it’s done:

Firmly place the dibble into the sandy soil; rock it back and forth, making a hole deep enough for the seedling root.

Place the seedling so that the bud from which the bushy long needles grow is above the soil line.

Place the dibble about two inches in front of the seedling hole. Pull back on the dibble, and then forward, closing the soil around the root.

Repeat about two inches in front of that, again closing the soil around the seedling root.

You have successfully planted a longleaf seedling!

In a fitting New Year’s family activity, the Walburns planted about 100 longleaf seedlings along the sandy fields and in forest openings on our land in Dallas County. Much of this land adjacent to the Alabama River and Pine Barren Creek is ideal for longleaf pine, a.k.a. Pinus Palustris.

The sun came out that afternoon, as we planted the longleaf seedlings. Everybody took a turn with the two dibbles (a small hand implement used to plant trees and other plants, see above photo), at least at first.

My first time with a dibble, and daughter Mary Claire’s, too, we caught on quickly to the specific directions (above) from Frankie the forester. But, once Mary Claire and I took turns planting a dozen or so ourselves, the experienced tree planters (Frank who’s planted thousands and Will who’s planted hundreds) took over, and completed the New Year’s Eve planting (and another on New Year’s Day).

I learned how to plant a seedling and refreshed my knowledge about this native southern pine tree, the longleaf pine, which once covering two-thirds of the South. Longleaf pine greeted early explorers, who “saw a vast forest of the most stately pine trees that can be imagined, planted by nature at a moderate distance. . . enameled with a variety of flowering shrubs."

That’s according to the Longleaf Alliance, a non-profit originating at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The LLA has a mission of the conservation and restoration of significant functioning longleaf pine ecosystems across the southeastern United States forest landscape. The longleaf pine ecosystem once occupied an estimated 90 million acres in the region. By the early 1990s, only about 2.8 million acres of this forest remained. Due in large part to the efforts of The Longleaf Alliance and its many partners over the past 14 years, the acreage in longleaf forest has increased to approximately 3.2 million acres, the first such increase since the time of settlement. Find out more at

For us and our small privately-owned forestland, the longleaf seedlings planted at the New Year represented more than just planting back a species which likely covered the landscape when Native Americans canoes traveled up and down the Alabama River instead of bass boats and jet skis.

As with any tree planting, our longleaf planting was for prosperity and a lot more.

You plant trees not so much for yourself, but for your children and your children’s children. In the case of longleaf, which is the longest living tree among southern species, the lifetime can be up to 250 years. Longleaf reach maturity at about 30 years, when trees begin to produce those big cones filled with fertile seeds. The trunk of the mature tree fills out into a straight, relatively branch-free tree that resembles a living telephone pole (in fact, many longleaf pines are sold for telephone poles). On more fertile soils, the tree may continue to grow in height up to 110 feet.

So, in addition to reinstating a pine species native to the area and the expectation of some pole-length trees beginning in 30 years (when our children might be grandparents), our longleaf seedling planting activity brings other benefits.

These include:

Promoting wildlife and native species: Longleaf pine forests provide quality habitat for desirable plants and animal species. These include bobwhite quail, fox squirrels, wild turkeys and whitetail deer.

Reduced risk of loss to natural causes: Longleaf pine is highly resistant to pine beetles and fusiform rust, tolerant of wildfire and ice and generally wind-firm. Plus, one common agent of destruction in many southern forests – fire – is an essential tool in longleaf management. That’s also a plus for my forester husband, who enjoys no forest management tool more than a controlled burn.

Biodiversity: A longleaf pine stand maintained by fire is among the most biologically diverse ecotypes in North America.

Carbon Sink: Because longleaf pine lives longer than other southern pines and has the ability to sustain growth at older ages (150 year-plus), the longleaf has the ability to tie up stored carbon for long periods.

Cultural: Longleaf was literally the tree that built the South. Aside from lumber to build homes, businesses and ships, longleaf pine forests provided fare for the dinner table, medicine, a place to graze cattle and extract resin to refine turpentine. In addition to its park-like beauty, a longleaf forest provided a place to go and listen to the “whispering of the pines.”

Dollars and cents: Longleaf pine produces straight, dense, rot resistant wood. Longleaf gives landowners market flexibility, yields a variety of products (including longleaf pine straw) and continues to grow throughout their lives, responding to thinning even at greatly advanced ages. In addition, longleaf guards against natural catastrophic loss better than other southern pines.

Biodiversity or market stability aside, it may be the beauty of the longleaf pine, its aesthetics and coolness-factor, which was most appealing as we stuck those bushy, container-grown seedlings into the sandy dirt.

Wise, look-to-the-future thinking, a good start, time and Mother Nature are the requirements for tree growing, especially the longleaf. We gave them a good start. Now, it’s up to time and Mother Nature.

Pictures of the day:

Getting ready
for the New Year's
Longleaf seedling
planting: Will, Frankie
the Forester, and Mary
Will and Mary Claire
plant longleaf seedlings.


Song of the day:
In the Pines, a traditional American folk song
-- Dating back to at least the 1870s.
-- Recorded by the Carter Family, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, the Louvin Brothers and Nirvana.

In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines
I shivered where the cold winds blow
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines
I shivered where the cold winds blow


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.