Restoring longleaf pine forest ecosystems in the southern United States
Longleafpine (Pinus palustris) forests were historically one of the most extensive ecosystems in North America, covering 38 million ha along the coastal plain from Texas to Virginia and extending into central Florida and the Piedmont and mountains of Alabama and Georgia. Throughout its domain. longleaf pine occurred in forests, woodlands and savannas on a variety of sites ranging from wet flatwoods to xeric sandhills and rocky mountain ridges. In the western coastal plain. longleaf pine understories are dominated by bluestem grasses (Andropogon spp. and Schizachyrium spp.) and from Florida eastward, longleaf pine is commonly associated with wiregrass (Aristida spp.) The open, park-like stand structure of longleaf pine ecosystems is a product of frequent understory fires, which are facilitated by the combustibility of grasses and accumulated pine needles. Lightning strikes and ignition by Native Americans were the principal sources of fire that shaped longleaf pine ecosystems for many millennia.