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What Is the State Tree of Alabama? Reasons & Symbolism

Longleaf pines

Alabama is the 5th most biologically diverse state in the United States. The biodiversity of Alabama includes over 180 species of trees. Which one of the 180 species of trees owns the title of the official state tree of Alabama? That would be the longleaf pine. This particular pine tree has been the state tree of Alabama since 1997. Continue reading to learn more about the longleaf pine and why it was chosen as Alabama’s state tree.

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Longleaf Pine Overview

Longleaf Pine
Image Credit: fullersa, Pixabay
Common Name: Longleaf pine, longstraw pine, yellow pine, swamp pine
Scientific Name: Pinus palustris
Origin: Southeastern United States
USDA Hardiness Zone: 7b-10
Flower Color: Yellow-red (male), purple (female)
Bloom Time: Spring

The longleaf pine is a pine tree native to the southeastern United States, from eastern Texas to the Florida Peninsula, and up the Atlantic coast as far north as southern Virginia. They once covered 90 million acres of the southeast, but now only grow heavily in scattered patches particularly near the coast. These trees thrive in climates that are warm and wet, with mild winters. In fact, some forests near the coast along the Gulf of Mexico are made up of longleaf pines almost exclusively.

The longleaf pine gets its name from having the longest leaves of any other eastern pine species. The leaves, or needles, can grow up to 15 inches long. The tree produces “flowers” in the springtime which turn into 6-8 inch cones during and throughout the summer. They are very hardy trees that can survive fire and actually rely on it to kill competing plants and trees.

Unfortunately, the population of longleaf pines has declined by around 97%. Only about 3 million acres of longleaf pine trees remain and the tree is listed as endangered. This is due to large amounts of land being cleared for development and agriculture and the trees themselves being used for building purposes.

The trees are also very slow growing and grow very little during the first five years of their lives, sometimes being mistaken for grass. This hasn’t helped improve numbers, as many forested areas are replacing longleaf pines with faster-growing trees.

Longleaf Pine Forest
Image Credit: Ryan McGurl, Shutterstock

How Was the Longleaf Pine Chosen?

So now that you know a bit about the longleaf pine, how was it chosen as Alabama’s state tree? Well, in 1949, the state tree of Alabama was listed as the Southern pine. However, the name “Southern pine” was a generic name used to refer to the plethora of pine tree species that can be found in the state.

Since the name didn’t refer to one particular pine tree, Alabama decided to adopt a specific species of pine, the longleaf pine, as the official state tree in 1997. It’s not evident why this particular pine tree was chosen. But perhaps it’s because of how prominent the tree used to be throughout the state and the rest of the southeast as well as how important the tree was for construction and shipbuilding.

Plus, even though the longleaf pine population has declined significantly, these trees are still very prominent in the coastal regions of Alabama. In fact, the USDA-Forest Service created the Escambia Experimental Forest which was first established in 1947 in south Alabama, close to the Florida state line. This is a 3,000-acre forest filled with second-growth longleaf pine trees that was established for studying these trees over the long-term for forestry and conservation purposes to help the species survive.

 

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Conclusion

So there you have it. The state tree of Alabama is the longleaf pine. This pine tree once covered over 90 million acres of the southeastern United States, but today only covers about 3 million acres. These trees are common in coastal areas of Alabama and surrounding states, and there is even an experimental forest dedicated to studying these endangered trees and helping to ensure their survival.

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Featured Image Credit: Wildnerdpix, Shutterstock

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