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Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda L.)

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Loblolly Pine
Photo © lapemis, Public Domain.

Summary

A pine native to the southeastern US, favoring moist bottomlands, also widely planted in forestry.

Range - Expand

LegendColor
Native
Expanded
Native or Not Present
Native or Expanded

This map is based on our research. We have checked its accuracy to Level 3 ecoregions. Although this plant occurs somewhere in each of these regions, it may only occur in a small part of some or all of them.

This species has been widely planted for timber plantations, resulting in new populations slightly north of its native range, mostly near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. We mark these populations as expanded rather than introduced because they are directly adjacent to its native range.

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Habitat

Found throughout the southeast in a wide range of mesic-to-wet, early-successional habitats, including abandoned fields, clearcuts, and other disturbed sites. Prefers poorly-drained sites, except in the south of its range, and found on both flat and sloped terrain.

Adaptable to a wide range of soil types, but prefers moderately acidic soils, tolerating a pH as low as 4. In most of its range, it prefers soil with poor surface drainage, a thick, medium-textured surface layer, and fine-textured subsoils. Primarily found on utilsols, highly weathered acidic soils common in the southeastern U.S. Throughout most of its range it is most common on moist sites, also found on mesic sites and occasionally on dry sites. In the south of its range, where fire risk is higher, it becomes absent from wet or poorly-drained sites, and mostly restricted mesic sites with to loamy soils, or occasionally on sites where sandy surface soils is underlain by a layer of clay, creating similarly mesic conditions.

Inhabits a climate zone with 40-50 inches of rain annually and 6-10 frost-free months. Generally found up to elevations of 1200 ft (365m) and restricted to lower elevations in the north of its range. Multiple USDA documents say that Loblolly pine is limited to elevations above 500 feet, but this is clearly erroneous as it is common in the coastal plain where elevations are consistently below this level. It is limited by low temperatures in the north and at high elevations, and by low rainfall in the west.

Can persist indefinitely on sites that burn on average once every 10 years, but generally absent from sites that burn much more frequently, where it is replaced by longleaf pine (Pinus palustris); on sites that burn less frequently it is usually replaced by hardwoods, but it can be found temporarily in early successional stages. Fire suppression can cause this species to move into areas that would naturally be dominated by more fire-adapted species such as longleaf pine.

Humans have hugely increased the habitat for this species through a combination of fire suppression and clearing of forests, leading to more early-successional habitats. Its numbers have also been increased by widely planting it in forest plantations. Previously, loblolly pine was more restricted to moist bottomlands, but it is now more common on drier uplands as well.

Life Cycle

Seeds germinate mostly on exposed mineral soils, such as following fire. Seeds require dormancy and germinate in March or April. Ungerminated seeds do not usually survive and there is no seed bank.

Seedlings require adequate moisture, and have some shade tolerance, and their rapid growth (2-3 feet per year) can also allow them to overtop competing vegetation. Although young plants have moderate shade tolerance, established plants are more intolerant.

Trees begin producing cones at 12-18 years of age, but seed viability is not high until age 25.

Flowering and seed production is a multi-year process, initiated in summer, followed by bud production in fall. Pollen release then occurs in spring, but timing is irregular, triggered by temperature. Cones mature September-October, with seeds released primarily in November, most falling by mid-December. Seed production is irregularly cyclical, dependent on weather conditions. High production occurs every 3-6 years, and is hindered by dry conditions in early summer or frosts at the time of flowering.

Trees over 75 years in age often develop heart rot, and are eventually killed by the southern
pine beetle. However, under good conditions trees can live up to 275 years.

Faunal Associations

This tree is eaten, and often severely damaged by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), a native insect which also eats numerous other pine species.

The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker utilizes older loblolly pine trees with heart rot for its nesting. The tendency to harvest loblolly pine before 50 years of age has played a role in the decline of this woodpecker.

Uses

Loblolly pine is the most important timber species in the southeastern U.S. Its wood is valued as being hard and dense relative to other pines, and it is widely used in construction. It is widely planted in plantations.

It is sometimes also planted to stabilize soil, reclaim land damaged by mine spoils, or as a windbreak or noise barrier. When used as a windbreak or noise barrier, it is best planted together with other, more shade-tolerant evergreen vegetation such as American holly (Ilex opaca), as mature stands of loblolly pine tend to self-prune and become open lower down, undermining its use for these purposes.

In its native range, it is planted as a landscaping plant and shade tree, where it is valued for its fast growth and its tolerance of poorly-drained sites. Its survival is limited by winter cold and/or moisture and it does not do well much farther north or west than its native range, except in a small region of the central US near and somewhat upstream from the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Closely related to, and can hybridize with shortleaf pine (P. echinata), longleaf pine (P. palustris), pitch pine (P. rigida), slash pine (P. elliottii), and pond pine (P. serotina).

Loblolly Pine | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Loblolly Pine | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Pinus taeda (Loblolly Pine) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Loblolly Pine | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Pinus taeda (Loblolly Pine) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Loblolly Pine | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Loblolly Pine | Silvics of North America (About This Site)

Pinus taeda | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Pinus taeda | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

Pinus taeda | Flora of North America (About This Site)

Photo gallery

Photo © Alex Zorach, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Photo © lapemis, Public Domain.
Photo © Joseph McPhail, Public Domain.
Photo © TERESA A MEWBORN, Public Domain.
Photo © John Ambler, Public Domain.
Photo © Ken-ichi Ueda, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Ken-ichi Ueda, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Jeff Clark, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Jeff Clark, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © tentoedsloth, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Laura Clark, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Abby Darrah, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Sam Kieschnick, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © CK Kelly, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Samuel A. Schmid, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Zihao Wang, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © mjpapay, CC BY 4.0.
A closed pine seed cone, long and conical, with robust prickles angled towards the tip, on the ground in needle litter
Photo © Sarah DeLong-Duhon, CC BY 4.0.
Some pine trees growing in a grassy field, the larger ones with rounded crowns, and numerous small ascending branches
Photo © CK Kelly, CC BY 4.0.