The state tree of Alabama, longleaf pine has now become outnumbered by loblolly pine. Although its wood is very strong, heavy, and durable, the rapid growth of Loblolly has proved more economically advantageous, in contrast with the slow growth and specific conditions required to grow longleaf pine. During early seedling development, the bud is protected from fire by the compact arrangement of needles, hence longleaf pine is adapted to an environment that is frequently burned. This distinctive seedling habit is referred to as the grass stage because it resembles a clump of grass for 3-5 years before growth in height is initiated.
Therefore, today, much of the area formerly occupied by the pine has been replaced by plantations of loblolly and slash pine, because its delayed period of seedling height growth is not compatible with maximizing yields in pulpwood rotations. However, increased interest is emerging in the restoration of this forest type because of the desirability of its saw timber, the longevity and disease resistance of the tree, and the associated species-rich, fire-maintained ecosystem. Mature stands of longleaf pine provide suitable habitat for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Leaves are evergreen needles, persisting 2 seasons, 10-18 in. long, 3 per fascicle, and densely crowded at ends of branches. Longleaf pine is quite distinctive due to the long needles and large cones. Young pollen cones are dark purple-blue and occur in large clusters at the base of terminal buds. Young ovulate cones are rose-purple and appear in March. Mature seed cones are ovoid to oblongish, 6-10 in. long, and fall from tree the second year.