East Coast, USA
Why I love this image…on the left side of the image is a longleaf pine and a bolt of lightning, resembling a tree itself, shooting across the top of the image. Many species, including the longleaf pine, depend on lightning to ignite fires. Here’s additional information on the relationship from the University of Florida:
Lightning-induced fires have played a major role in the development of the longleaf pine community, and is essential to the survival of certain wildlife species, too. Gopher tortoises, Florida mice, gopher frogs, and eastern diamond-back rattlesnakes are among the native animals in the ecosystem. Endangered species such as red-cockaded woodpeckers and indigo snakes are threatened by the loss of the longleaf pine habitat. The seeds are an excellent food source for squirrels, turkey, quail, and brown-headed nuthatches.
Longleaf pine takes 100 to 150 years to become full size and can live to 300 years old. Longleaf pine is common in flatwoods, sandhill, and upland hardwood ecosystems. It occurs naturally on nutrient poor soils of flat and sandy sites ranging from wet, poorly drained flatwoods to dry rocky mountain ridges below 660-ft elevation.
The thick, reddish-brown, scaly bark of mature trees helps insulate the tree from the heat of fires, providing some fire resistance, as do the thick, silver-white hairs found on buds when longleaf pine is in its grass-stage.
The grass-stage is the immature phase of longleaf pines. The thick silver-white buds, 1 ½" to 2" long, characterize longleaf pine.
Unlike most conifers, the first 3 to 7 years of longleaf pine growth do not involve stem elongation. Rather, it remains a fire resistant, stemless, dense cluster of needles resembling tufts of grass. During this stage, seedlings are developing a deep taproot system below the ground and are capable of sprouting from the root collar, if the top is damaged.
Once the root system is thoroughly established, the tree begins normal stem elongation and its sprouting ability sharply decreases. The taproot is usually 8’ to 12’ long upon maturity. In early growth up to 8 ft high, the seedlings become susceptible to fire damage. Once longleaf pines reach 8 feet in height, it is again fire resistant. Longleaf pine is one of many species that thrive when periodic low-intensity fires burn through stands.