Shortleaf Pines in Craven County

— Written By and last updated by Jami Hooper
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The four native pines indigenous to Craven County are loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), longleaf pine (P. palustris), pond pine (Pinus serotina) and shortleaf pine (P. echinata). Of the four, it could be said that loblolly shows up everywhere; longleaf is more limited to state and national forest lands that are carefully managed to preserve them; and pond pine is mostly in or at the edges of pocosins. In comparison with these three, shortleaf is scattered about and generally overlooked.

According to one of my contacts with the Croatan National Forest, there aren’t any pure stands of shortleaf pine in the Croatan, but you can find these trees intermingled with loblolly pines. A botanist or forester wouldn’t have any problem looking through a stand of pines and separating loblolly from longleaf, but in my own experience I’ve had to rely on the cones and the needle fascicles. (I’ll stick with loblolly vs. shortleaf in my comparisons, because no one will confuse shortleaf pine with either longleaf or pond pine.)

Shortleaf pine cones are ovoid (egg-shaped) and at 4 to 7 centimeters much shorter than loblolly cones, which range from 5-13 centimeters and are distinctly longer than broad. Needles per bundle (or fascicle) can vary even within species, but in general loblolly pine has needles mostly in threes, and shortleaf has needles mostly in twos. And yes, shortleaf pine needles are significantly shorter than those of loblolly, about 5-12 centimeters long  as compared with 10 to 23 centimeters (or longer) for loblolly pine.

If you’ve got a large natural or wooded area to manage or improve for wildlife, shortleaf pine would be a good species to work into the mix, as the seeds are an important food source for birds and other wildlife. The NC Forest Service nurseries sell shortleaf pine, along with many other native trees, and that would be the place to start if a substantial number of trees is needed.

If you only wanted one or two for a residential property, you’d almost certainly be able to find seedlings from an online nursery. But I would argue for longleaf pine on residential sites. We can make a strong case that longleaf pine has superior wind, insect and disease resistance over shortleaf pine, and from a conservation point of view it’s better to have a few more longleaf pines than a few more loblolly pines.

Sortleaf pine cones

Left: Typical ovoid shape of a shortleaf pine cone. Right: Arrows indicate two seeds borne on one cone scale, typical of pines.