Opining on a Pine
By Paul James
I don’t often focus on a single plant, but today I’m going to opine on a pine, specifically the loblolly pine. After all, it’s got a lot going for it as a specimen, as an overstory tree for shade-loving trees, shrubs, and perennials, and as a privacy screen for those of you who have neighbors who can stare down at your pool or hot tub from a second story window. (Believe me, that’s a thing.) And it has a long list of attributes.
The native range of the loblolly pine is extensive, running through 14 states from New Jersey to Texas. It includes a section of southeastern Oklahoma (they’re everywhere in McCurtain County), but it’s adapted well throughout much of the state.
Loblolly pines will grow in poorly drained and heavy clay soils, but they thrive in “average” soils as well. And they love hot and humid conditions.
In the wild, loblolly pines provide habitat for white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, and bald eagles. In landscape settings, they serve as nesting sites for all kinds of birds, and pine seeds are prized by warblers and nuthatches.
Loblolly pines in the landscape typically grow to between 50 and 80 feet with a spread of 30 feet, although in the wild they can grow to 150 feet or more. That makes them ideal overstory trees, under which you can plant azaleas, dogwoods, Japanese maples, ferns, and other shade-loving plants.
One of the reasons the loblolly pine is so popular is that it can grow two feet or more a year, which is fast. And it seems everybody wants a fast-growing tree.
One of the oldest loblolly pines that’s still actively growing is estimated to be 275 years old.
Loblolly pines have an almost perfectly straight trunk, and as they mature they lose their lower branches up to about 30 feet, which makes the trunk all the more pronounced. The bark is attractive as well.
As trees go, loblolly pines are a relative bargain.
So how did it get the name loblolly? Apparently loblolly was a slang term used by English seamen for the lumpy gruel they were served at sea, and the gruel reminded the first Carolina settlers of the wet, boggy areas in the low country where loblolly pines flourished.
Mmmm. I’m pining for a bowl of lumpy gruel right about now.
Happy gardening, y’all.
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