Big Southeastern Pines   Don Bragg
  Jan 31, 2005 07:07 PST 

I have often wondered what the largest of the presettlement pines in the east would have been--we have reasonably reliable estimates of loblolly pine volumes from Arkansas and Louisiana of 7,000 to 10,000 board feet in individual trees (Doyle scale) from the early 1900s. However, if some of the historical sources of eastern white pine from Wisconsin and Michigan are reliable (see Colby Rucker's paper on big trees past and present on the ENTS website), they may have exceeded these numbers...I have also seen some historical pictures of the butt ends of longleaf pine that were VERY impressive.

Don Bragg
RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Robert Leverett
  Jan 31, 2005 07:29 PST 

   The volumes you quote for great pines of the past are very
impressive. Will Blozan and Michael Davie dug up data (with photo) of
the great Rich Mtn white pine in Tennessee. Are you aware of that tree?
When cut down, it was over 19 feet in circumference at breast height and
168 feet tall to a broken top. It produced over 7,000 board feet of

RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Don Bragg
  Feb 01, 2005 05:52 PST 

I've seen the historical pictures of the Rich Mountain white pine on the website. Spectacular!! I looked up the biggest loblolly pine total that I saw, and realized I had misquoted the log scale used. The tree tallied 10,971 board feet (International 1/4") scale, which is probably in the 7,000 board foot (Doyle scale) range. Still, not too shabby. There is a picture of this pine in a publication by H.H. Chapman of Yale University with a lumberman and early southern forestry pioneer Henry Hardtner of the Urania Lumber Company (Louisiana). The loblolly was 54" DBH (14.1' CBH) and very low in taper, being 40 inches in diameter at a height of 96 feet. Total height of this tree was 165 feet.

I suspect loblolly pine grew even larger in the West Gulf Coastal Plain, especially in the small bottomlands and terrace flats. In my General Land Office study of the Ashley County, Arkansas area, the largest loblolly pine reported by the surveyors had an estimated diameter of 72 inches (no heights). The surveyors also reported baldcypress 8' to 12' in diameter, and several oak species 78" to 80" in diameter.

Oh, to have seen these presettlement forests!

Don Bragg
RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Robert Leverett
  Feb 01, 2005 06:17 PST 


Thanks for the additional information. It certainly appears that the
loblolly was/is in every respect a worthy competitor of the white pine
as the big pine of the East.

It has always interested me as to what are the environmental changes
that result in a species reaching an absolute or relative maximum in one
geographical region as compared to another when at least superficial
comparisons would suggest not much difference in growing conditions. For
instance, why don't we find at least a few spots in Alabama and Georgia
with Congaree-sized loblollies. Forgetting the prevailing industrial
tree farm paradigm of the Southeast, there have to be a few widely
scattered sites with favorable growing conditions and sufficient local
protection to enable the species to reach the dimensions of the Congaree
trees. The statistics you quoted for the loblolly supports this
hypothesis. Could the big ones still be out there and we just haven't
heard about them? Will Fell may have thoughts on favorable growing
conditions for loblollies. He has talked about that before.

RE: Big Southeastern Pines
  Feb 01, 2005 08:18 PST 
Bob and Don

How far north have you found Loblolly? The Pa state co champs are within miles of each other. I have measurements for one:

cbh 91
tall 72
av spd 42.

This tree is in Media Pa, Delaware county. The other tree is at Haverford college, Delaware county. It is a little smaller, but close in points. I have always wondered what the northern limit was. When I lived in Va. I was told that it was at it's northern limit, but we have it in SE PA. What have you seen?

RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Willard Fell
  Feb 01, 2005 10:34 PST 


Most of my info is anecdotal, but Loblolly Pine, as Neil writes, was a tree of wetlands, hence its common name of Loblolly. It is by far the largest of the southern yellow pines. Given good growing conditions it will continue good growth long after Slash or Longleaf slow or stagnate. The best growth appears to be in the river bottoms of the piedmont and the upper coastal plain reaches of the Red River Bottoms. It's paucity in natural stands in SE GA and perhaps elsewhere is that for years it was considered an inferior species for lumber and particularly because it did not run gum. Early in my career Loblolly (or Black Pine as it was known here) was quickly eliminated from stands as it competed for space for the more desirable Slash (yellow) or Longleaf Pines. The exception being right along the immediate coast and on the coastal islands where it is often the dominate pine. For years the paper companies planted slash pine, but in the past 25 years that has reversed to Loblolly because of the trees much better growth and response to more intensive culture.

There was a former national champion located in the Ogeechee River floodplain that fell in a storm about 25 years ago that I personally measured in excess of 160 feet after it toppled. It was listed at 155 feet on the books. I would beg to disagree with Neil however on the statement about wetland loss being a factor though. I would feel safe in saying that in SE GA probably 99+% of the wetlands are still intact. I see the Congaree as being an unusual stand, not an unusual site. I would believe other Red River Bottoms just below the fall line such as the Savannah, Altamaha and Pee Dee to be equally as fertile sites. The difference being, that most have been almost completely cutover or high-graded at some period or other.

Loblolly Pine appears to have about the greatest range of the southern pines spreading from the "lost Pines" of central Texas around through Florida and on up the east coast to Delaware and Southern NJ. I have seen stands in Delaware up to the Chesapeake Canal just south of Wilmington, DE and also there are some good sized trees in the Belleplain State Forest in So. NJ.

Will F

Willard H. Fell Jr.
District Forester
Georgia Forestry Commission
18899 US Hwy 301 N.
Statesboro, GA 30461
The southern pines-questions for Will Fell   Robert Leverett
  Feb 01, 2005 11:25 PST 


Thanks. As usual, you are a goldmine of valuable and interesting
information. And now comes my next battery of questions. First let me
say, I've always been fascinated by the southern pines, but confess a
mountain of ignorance about their ecology and principal uses. I know
isolated facts, but don't even trust them. I timidly ask, would you be
willing to give the list a quick summary on the species, their preferred
habitat, and principal uses? For instance are the slash and longleaf
species the principal competitors of one another? Which has the
hardest/heaviest wood? Which is longest lived? Which has the greatest
distribution? Is one considered to be a better wildlife species than
another? I do realize that the answers to these questions are scattered
among popular sources, but I see a lot of contradictory information
about them and I trust you as a source.

RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Don Bragg
  Feb 01, 2005 12:09 PST 

I would think that there are a number of places in Alabama, Georgia, and other places in the South fully capable of producing Congaree-sized loblolly pine. I believe that our efficiency in logging the landscape has probably contributed to the relative scarcity of modern-day big pines. I also wonder if the decades of intensive cotton farming and other agricultural practices have worn the soil out more in those states that places like Arkansas, where the farming of the uplands was not as extensive in time and space.

We have very favorable growing conditions for loblolly pine in the Upper West Gulf Coastal Plain, especially on mesic sites. In addition to the (now long-dead) loblolly from Urania, Louisiana, that I had referenced earlier, a former national champion loblolly had lived in a bottomland not 20 miles from my current office. Unfortunately, this giant was blown over in a windstorm about 2 years ago (check out for some pictures of this tree, standing and felled). We also lost a ~47" DBH, ~150' tall loblolly in the Levi Wilcoxon Demonstration Forest near Hamburg, Arkansas to a windstorm about the same time. I think some of our sites are particularly fertile in this part of the South because of less intensive agriculture and a good amount of loess on some of our sites.

I also think there are a number of big loblolly out there that we haven't measured yet...

Don Bragg
RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Don Bragg
  Feb 01, 2005 12:12 PST 

People have planted loblolly well north of its historical distribution, although I believe it starts to suffer from cold and glaze damage in many places that it has been planted. I want to say that I've seen some planted in the northern Lake States, but these may be incorrect memories...

Don Bragg
RE: Big Southeastern Pines   edward coyle
  Feb 01, 2005 12:34 PST 


I have just heard of a loblolly/pitch pine cross that is being used a lot
in replanting in NJ, and I think NY. It has cold resistance from the pitch,
and form from the loblolly. It has a higher disease resistance than either
alone. I don't know if it is easily recognizable as seperate or not.
Natural crosses include shortleaf, longleaf, pond pines, Bob.

Ed C
RE: The southern pines-questions for Will Fell   Willard Fell
  Feb 01, 2005 13:35 PST 

Wow, I don't know with how much authority I can answer your questions but I will try.

I would consider the main Southern Yellow Pines as Loblolly, Slash and Longleaf and in certain areas Shortleaf. For utilization and grading purposes there is no separation as to species among the four.

Loblolly's range is south-wide except for the Delta Region, Appalachians and the Tenn. Central Basin. A long lived pine comparatively, it will maintain good growth rates much longer than others. With the exception of the coastal region, it prefers heavier soils than the others. It is widespread in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain of the Carolinas and VA. where it colonized the abandoned fields after the demise of cotton in the 1920's. Probably 80-90% of the SYP lumber manufactured is Loblolly.

Longleaf is more a Coastal Plain species from Texas to the NC/VA border with a finger extending up the Cumberland Plateau in NE ALA and NW GA to about Rome GA. Longleaf is considered by many the longest lived with documented specimens over 300 years old. I've heard 500 years but couldn't vouch on it. While it will survive on deeper droughtier sands, it shines in the seasonally wet flatwoods. Remember its species moniker is Palustris. More fire resistant than others for a number of reasons, it originally covered the fire dominated coastal plain of the south east. Because of the difficulties of both natural and artificial regeneration it has vastly lost the dominance it once had. Just of late has interest sparked anew in its many favorable characteristics and it is being more widely replanted.

Slash is restricted to Florida, South GA and perhaps a corner of SE ALA. Again, like Loblolly this species was historically relegated to the wet ponds and strands of the flatwoods of its range by fire. With the occurrence of fire suppression and the turpentine industry, it reclaimed the uplands after the depletion of the Longleaf during the last century. It was favored by the naval stores industry as it run more and graded better gum than the previously utilized Longleaf, particularly with the newer techniques developed in the second half of the last century. It does best on seasonally wet flatwoods sandy soils. It also prunes itself better and tends to be denser than loblolly so it grades out a little better for lumber. Because of this and its arrow straight growth habit a natural stand will tend to grade out a much higher proportion of poles. Longleaf tends to have larger more persistent knots, thus coming in a second for poles and lumber.

You asked about weight/hardness. This is a function of density which can vary widely by growth rate from fertile old field plantations to slow growing sandhills and wet ponds. With out digging out the forestry handbook I couldn't tell you exactly, but Slash and Longleaf are probably a dead heat for densest with maybe Longleaf having an edge. Generally Longleaf/Slash are scaled out at about 5700-5800lbs per cord and Lob at 5200lbs in this area. As for wildlife a pure pine stand is not much. I don't think any are especially favored for wildlife except for the longleaf which stands cover over the desirable open burned quail habitat so relished by hunters. The squirrels do have a field day with the larger nuts of the Slash and Longleaf and the rodents may do alright also. I know by September my yard is littered with the corncob like remains of the slash cones as the squirrels perch in the tops of the trees cutting the nuts loose.

Some of the minor species would be the Shortleaf Pine, perhaps not so minor in some regions however. This species favors the higher drier ridge tops of the piedmont. It also is graded as a southern yellow pine. Its range tends to overlap Loblolly except in Florida and SE GA where it is largely absent and it extends perhaps further north into Ark, Southern MO, SE Ohio, Southern PA and Long Island NY.

Then there is the Pond Pine (formerly considered a variety of Pitch Pine) that grows in frequently burned ponds and bays of the SE Coastal Plain. It really comes into its own in the vast pocosin regions of coastal NC. The Sand Pine is restricted to the deep sands of the Central FL peninsula and the panhandle of FL. This tree has been widely planted into the sandhills of GA and SC.

Up in the Southern Appalachians one can find the Table Mountain Pine and the Pitch Pine which I believe extends up into your neck of the woods in MASS. Also there is the Virginia Pine extending from the lower elevations of the Southern Apps in GA through the piedmont of the Carolinas broadening into the Coastal Plain of Northern VA and MD perhaps into PA and NJ. I understand that this tree also has some commercial value in the upper reaches of its range.

One other species  is the Spruce Pine that is restricted to the river bottoms of the SE Coastal Plain. This tree actually is capable of growing to a quite large size and more than likely is represented in the Congaree NP. It has little or no commercial value due to strength, lack of pruning and a few other (another senior moment) characteristics.

Will F

RE: Big Southeastern Pines   Willard Fell
  Feb 01, 2005 13:55 PST 


Probably the very reason you mention is responsible for the fertility of the Congaree and other red river bottoms in the SE. Early writings talk about the crystal clear sources of water in the Piedmont rivers. One I recall was regarding the Oconee River around 1800 when they located the Univ. of GA at the confluence of the two rivers. Now at times it appears you could stick a canoe paddle in the Oconee and it would stand upright. The Cotton Plantation agriculture dominated the piedmont for the naturally fertile loamy soils while ignoring the largely vacant sandy coastal plain referred to in early writings as the pine barrens. After a hundred years of cotton the dark loamy soils had washed into the rivers leaving a barren red clay landscape reclaimed later by the Loblolly and Shortleaf Pines (and Atlanta). With the advent of Chemical Fertilizers, agriculture moved to the more easily tilled and formerly rather poor soils of the upper coastal plain.

This is quite apparent looking at the rich hardwood sites of the red rivers compared to the poorer sites and species mix of the adjacent black river bottoms. The sandier sediments fell out first with finer sediments falling out in the slower waters below the fall line like the Congaree NP. Next time you are in the Carolinas compare the Congaree NP with the nearby also old growth preserve of the Four Holes Swamp off the black water Edisto River.

Will F

RE:  Big Southeastern Pines   MICHAEL DAVIE
  Feb 01, 2005 15:00 PST 

Colby sent me this link a long time ago, I don't know who else has seen
this, but since the subject has been raised, it is an impressive pine
I can never help but wonder, for all of the trees that were recognized and
admired how many were felled anonymously?
loblolly pine   Neil Pederson
  Feb 01, 2005 07:10 PST 


Before it was spread across the uplands,
loblolly pine was thought to exist in small
groups or an individuals, especially in
floodplains [see Mohr's 1896 'Timber Pines of the
southern United States or Ashe's 1915 bulletin on
loblolly pine]. This is exactly where the biggest
and some of the oldest specimens are found - the
Congaree floodplain.

As the SE US has lost most of its wetlands, it
may not be surprising that a large or old
loblolly pine is rare. I've heard of a couple of
other old stands of loblolly in SC, site names
escape me at the moment [Bull Island?]. not sure
of the sizes, but the ages compare well to the
Congaree's loblolly.


Re: loblolly pine   Jess Riddle
  Feb 01, 2005 15:36 PST 

I'd be interested in finding out more about those sites if the names come
back to you. Bull Island certainly isn't one of the sites anymore.
Hurricane Hugo flatted the island in 1989. The only trees that survived
were a couple of open grown live oaks and some stunted live oak forest on
old dunes. The rest of the island is now covered in 15 year old loblolly
pine and popcorn trees.

Jess Riddle
RE:  Big South eastern Pines   Bruce P. Allen
  Feb 01, 2005 16:18 PST 

Will F.

It is true that the Savannah river floodplain was harvested but the trees
that are there are not growing. The fastest growing 10 trees of 10,000 in
permanent plot has grow as much as 1 cm/yr in diameter in permanent plots
monitored for 22 years on the Savannah River Site - much slower than the
Congaree where oak aver age more than a cm/yr over most size classes. The
series of large reservoirs on the Savannah virtually eliminated floods over
much of its floodplain. The 1998 floods of the Savannah were the first
since the 1975 and only the second since the last dam was constructed in
1969. I would look for red rivers with the least restricted hydrologic
regimes to find the most productive floodplains. I think that is what set
the Congaree apart.

RE:  Big South eastern Pines   Willard Fell
  Feb 02, 2005 06:11 PST 


I had heard that studies have shown the lack of a flood regime on the
Savannah had implications on the productivity of its floodplain. My
comments as I tried to imply were merely broad based assumptions and
that can be dangerous. Now that I think about it the Savannah no longer
has the color of the other Red Rivers, the water being fairly clear at
Augusta. Maybe we should call it a "green river". I know it has a few
other names down towards Savannah due to the radiation from the bomb
plant. There is a stand of impressive hardwoods on Bear Island on the
order of the Congaree's. I have not done nor heard of any growth rates
and can only speak as to the size. Perhaps these trees completed their
growth prior to Clark Hill closing its gates in 1955.

One question I do have, is what is your species mix on these plots.
Could for instance a heavier loading of say Cherrybark in the Congaree
compared to the high-graded stands of the Savannah account for some of
the growth difference on the permanent plots. We're not comparing apples
and oranges are we?

Are there any comparable plots/studies on Gulf Coast streams such as the
Tombigbee or even Delta sites?

Perhaps the Pee Dee and the Altamaha which are not so dammed may have
comparable growth rates. At least they retain the familiar red/brown
color. I recall seeing some impressive growth stats on second growth
Cherry Bark done on the Pee Dee by Sunoco Forest Products several years

I wonder why the Congaree is not similarly affected. Doesn't it also
have a series of reservoirs just upstream from Columbia?

Willard H. Fell Jr.
District Forester
Georgia Forestry Commission
18899 US Hwy 301 N.
Statesboro, GA 30461
RE:  Big South eastern Pines   Don Bragg
  Feb 02, 2005 06:43 PST 

This site has a number of other big old pines (and a "poplar"--Liriodendron? Populus?) Impressive trees, although the stem diameters seem somewhat exaggerated when there are people standing next to them. The "Old Boss" was particularly impressive to me, as it is reported as a shortleaf pine. I have never seen a shortleaf on this scale (either modern or from historical reports).

Don Bragg
RE:  Big South eastern Pines   Bruce P. Allen
  Feb 02, 2005 07:24 PST 
Will F.,

In general, the species are comparable with the exception of Cherrybarrk
and Shummard oaks (there are so few in the Congaree they don't have much
influence on models of oak growth rates). The species that do overlap have
vastly different growth rates (white, willow, water, laurel, overcup,
swampchestnut oaks, sweetgum, etc.).    And as you noted, those lakes are
effective sediment traps. I suspect that it is the lack of sediment
deposition on the floodplain that is the primary difference.

I don't think that high grading (possibly clear cutting) between 1890 and
1930's significantly altered the gene pool on the site. I suspect that
they were only harvested once.

Will Conner has a couple of long term studies that might be comparable.

Conner, W. H., I. Mihalia, et al. (2002). "TREE COMMUNITY STRUCTURE AND

The lake Murray dam is the major lake up stream to the Congaree but it only
affects the Saluda river (~1/2 the water flowing into the Congaree
river). There are many low head dams and a power plant but they haven't
eliminated the annual flooding regime.


RE: The southern pines-questions for Will Fell   Don Bragg
  Feb 02, 2005 12:58 PST 

I would definitely include shortleaf pine as a southern pine. Shortleaf has the broadest range of the southern pines, extending its natural range from close to the Gulf of Mexico in northern Florida westward to eastern Texas and Oklahoma as far north as southern Missouri, southern Ohio, parts of Pennsylvania, and almost as far as New York City.   Shortleaf pine is the dominant pine in the Interior highlands of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and historically was a important component of upland Upper Gulf Coastal Plain landscapes. Even now, shortleaf is a significant portion of natural origin forests, although loblolly has taken over many areas.   Shortleaf pine is not as commonly planted as loblolly (and probably slash or maybe even longleaf), in part because it doesn't grow as fast. However, it is generally thought to be more drought tolerant and glaze resistant (thus, its abundance in sandy/rocky sites and more northern range).   On our Crossett Experimental Forest, our policy (but not always the practice) is to not distinguish between loblolly and shortleaf in managing our natural stands--while the shortleaf grows slower, it adds an important diversity component (and it is not unacceptably slow growing).   Shortleaf pine tends to live longer than loblolly, especially on harsh sites, with reports of 300 to 400 year old shortleaf found in the literature.

Don Bragg

Don C. Bragg, Ph.D.
Research Forester
USDA Forest Service
Southern Research Station