Foliage re-establishment of Pinus palustris Mill. saplings after spring or fall prescribed fire
Repeated fire is key to the viability of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) ecosystems, but its acceptance as a management tool may depend on satisfactory longleaf pine growth. This is because longleaf pine establishment often has the dual-purpose of ecosystem restoration and stemwood production. Timely recovery of scorched foliage among longleaf pine seedlings and saplings supports maximum juvenile growth. We identified two means of foliage re-establishment in the growing season after prescribed fire regardless of the season of fire application. New foliage growth after spring or fall fire was correlated with un-scorched foliage biomass and the presence of lateral branches. After prescribed fire in spring, foliage biomass recovery also appeared to benefit from the mobilization of starch. The high carbon demand of foliage recovery after fall prescribed fire was associated with interruption of seasonal starch accumulation in the stem and taproot. The implication of low starch accumulation in stem and taproot tissues during the growing season after fall prescribed fire is unknown and warrants further investigation. Our results demonstrate a positive influence of residual foliage, lateral branches, and stored starch on timely foliage recovery of young longleaf pines after fire. Together with knowledge of longleaf pine development and fuel and climate conditions at the time of prescribed fire, this information will aid prescribed fire practitioners charged with maintaining longleaf pine stands of high vigor.