Spring has eluded North Carolinians for far too long, and many people are itching to get outdoors and welcome the warming weather with open arms. This Saturday presents a perfect opportunity to do that while paying tribute to our state tree – the longleaf pine.
The 4th Annual Longleaf Festival will be held Saturday, April 13, at Harris Lake County Park in New Hill from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and there will be many activities and exhibits, including a hayride through the 60-acre restoration longleaf forest.
The namesake of the festival, longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), is found throughout the coastal plains of North Carolina but is most often found in the sandhills region of the state where regular fires occur. The tree is unique because it grows in a “grass stage” during its first years of development. This bushy phase protects the young growing tree from fire damage. This can last from anywhere between one and seven years. When its roots become well established, the tree shoots upwards, growing about four feet in one year. Only then will it begin to look like a tree.
Historically, the longleaf pine occupied much more area than it does today. Its current range is less than 5 percent of its pre-settlement range. A combination of factors have contributed to its decline:
- Fire suppression: Longleaf pine is fire tolerant and depends on fire for regeneration.
- Replanting with other treespecies: Usually those that are faster-growing
- Harvest: While it does not threaten the longleaf today, at one time resins of the tree were harvested and processed into by-products
- Seedling destruction by feral hogs
- Urban development.
Due to these factors, the longleaf pine slowly faded as a dominant pine species of the South. But, things are changing as efforts to restore these unique ecosystems are under way.
This Saturday, come celebrate the comeback of spring and the longleaf pine at the Longleaf Festival.