In my last column, I wrote: “The seeds of longleaf pine have to be exposed to fire before they will germinate.” One of our readers quickly let me know that longleaf pine certainly did not require fire to germinate and he has 25 acres of longleaf that has not seen fire to prove it.
The paragraphs below come straight from U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, “Agriculture Handbook 654 Silvics of North America:”
“Seedling Development — Longleaf pine differs from other Southern pines in that seeds germinate soon after they are dispersed. Given optimum conditions, seeds germinate in less than a week after they reach the ground. Prompt germination reduces the period of exposure to seed predators, but newly germinated seedlings are susceptible to damage or loss from animals, diseases and weather uncertainties, which may include high fall temperatures, drought or extreme cold with a risk of frost heaving in heavy soils (11).
“Seeds require contact with mineral soil for satisfactory germination and establishment. Longleaf seeds, with their large wings, cannot easily reach mineral soil through a heavy cover of grass and litter. The accumulated material must be removed before seedfall, either mechanically or by burning. Burning within a year of seedfall normally provides an adequate seedbed. Lack of seedbed preparation can result in a regeneration failure.”
So the reader is right. Longleaf does not have to have fire for its seeds to germinate. Fire is just the easiest way for Mother Nature to prepare the seedbed over the 93 million acres that longleaf pine once dominated across the Southeastern United States.
The alternative was teaching 50 million deer to paw at the ground to clear a spot so a squirrel could plant the seed in the paw mark, followed by a beaver to pat the soil down with his tail to get good seed to soil contact. It’s a union contract: Pawers, Placers and Patters Local 308.
People do not have to live in the comfortable Southeast. The Inuit people (Eskimos to the P.C. resistant among you) proved that people can live their entire lives north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, they can. It’s just not the lifestyle most of us prefer. Cabo comes to mind.
None of this changes the point I was trying to make. Cultivating the longleaf pine on military posts within the original range of longleaf pine makes excellent sense, to the point of being a “Duh!”
All we have to put up with is a little smoke from time to time. If that is too much for you to endure, try getting deer, squirrels and beavers to cooperate on just about anything. It’s like herding cats.