Looking for Longleaf

So you’ve read Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and you want to know more.

Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest, by Lawrence S. Earley

The tallest and strongest of pine trees, longleaf made great sailing ship masts , tar for caulking ships, and of course saw timber. How the early settlers cut down trees for houses and to clear land to farm. Their hogs and cows running loose in the woods ate the young longleaf, suppressing new trees for a hundred years. Then professional forestry took over, trying to suppress the fire that destroyed northern white pine forests, yet which preserves southern longleaf pine forests. The sad story of turpentine: we knew better, but we did it anyway.

The peculiar life cycle of a tree that starts out looking like a clump of grass, and can stay that way for decades, yet promotes and survives fire and can grow more than 100 feet tall and live for centuries. The thousands of species of plants, animals, and fungi the forest protects, many of them, like wiregrass, also adapted to fire.

How tuberculosis and quail led to new understandings of longleaf and fire, and the people who discovered those things. We do know how to grow these trees now, and lots of people are doing it: for jobs, for sawtimber, for the beauty of the forest.

1 thought on “Looking for Longleaf

  1. John Quarterman

    “Human history takes place in a physical setting that’s not just a backdrop to what occurs there but is a material cause of it. I’m not a historian, but I bet you can make a strong argument that you can’t understand southern history without understanding the landscape and the natural communities that are part of this landscape. Forests, rivers, … See Moresoils—these are the raw materials out of which people make their lives and their histories. Longleaf pine forests, for example, were part of the complex reasons that moved the English to settle Virginia, because the English realized that the trees could be used to make tar, which was essential for their navy. To understand why these trees were so rich in the resin that made tar is to add another dimension to the understanding of human history in America, and southern history in particular.”

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