Pine trees valuable in Mississippi

Published 7:39 pm Saturday, November 17, 2018

By Terry Rector

Most of the outdoor plant life is either dull or turning that way quickly. Pine trees are still green. But it seems we don’t think as much of pines as we do stately oaks or other hardwood species.

Perhaps because pines grow so fast, they’re thought to be less valuable.  Pines are indeed valuable here in Mississippi, accounting for the majority of the annual billion-plus dollar tree harvest. And pines do adorn many home landscapes. Maybe that’s because they can be had for free. Or maybe a lot of folks just like their pines.

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Originally there were no all-pine forests in the state. Pines naturally grew mixed in with oaks and other species.

The term “pine plantation” came to be about a century ago when pines were planted to replace worn out cotton fields and to as well as some clear cut native forests. On soils that are pretty acidic and not very fertile, large tracts were planted in only pines because they produce lumber economically on such soils. Oaks don’t.

Here in the steep and deep loess soil of Yazoo, Warren and Claiborne counties, oaks do just fine and will make more money eventually.

When I first got here, there were no pine-only plantings in Warren. That changed with the 1986 federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that promoted converting erodible crop land to forests as a soil conservation measure. Additionally, some conversion of hardwood forests to all pines has occurred.

Pines are planted close together so they self-prune, dropping their lower limbs as they grow and shade one another. Pine stands are thinned out with two harvests before a final saw log harvest around age 40, twice as fast as a typical oak saw log harvest. Especially on private family-owned land, the quicker return from pines has some people thinking shorter term; shorter as in grandkids’ tuition.

There are six species of pines native to the state. The one that was and still is the most widespread is the Loblolly pine. It is the only species now planted for forests in the northern, central, southwest and most of the southeast parts of the state. Loblolly is the pine given away at the annual Arbor Day observance by the local Soil and Water Conservation District.

Slash pine originally grew in a few scattered areas of Mississippi, including a spot along the river in the mid-Delta. It mostly grew in the very southeastern counties and is today only in reforestation plantings along the coast and just above.

Another species native to that area is the Longleaf pine, with limited acres now grown there.  Longleaf is a specialty crop because the logs are valuable as utility poles.

The other pines original to Mississippi don’t have a timber harvest role anymore. They include the sand pine of Jackson County, the shortleaf pine native to much of the state with some still around, and the good-looking spruce pine with the twisted needles.

Additionally, the Virginia pine grown as Christmas trees is native to a few scattered spots in the state.

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.