What is Slash Pine?

branches of a slash pine in Florida

If you’ve spent any time whatsoever pretty much anywhere in Florida, chances are good that you’ve seen a Slash Pine at some point in your life.  Native to the American southeast, Slash Pines are a prominent, dominant forest species in a broad swath of low country from southern South Carolina in an arc west to eastern Louisiana.  In Florida, Slash Pines grow in all 67 counties and are absent from only the wettest parts of the Everglades, the dominion of more herbaceous aquatic plants.

The Slash Pine is named for Slash, the iconic, top hat-wearing, pine tree-loving Guns N’ Roses guitarist… no, only kidding.  A slash is another name for the southeastern swampy habitat populated with dense shrubs and palm scrub so favored by the Slash Pine. As for the Slash Pine’s scientific name, Pinus is Latin for pine.  Who’d have guessed?  The elliotti in the plant’s name is in honor of botanist, Stephen Elliott.  Yeah, I’d not heard of him either, but Elliott has been called “The Father of Southern Botany,” is remembered for writing “one of the most important works in American Botany,” and the man’s got a pine tree named after him.  Sounds like a pretty rad guy to me.

A product of its environment, the Slash Pine is a tough, adaptable tree, able to withstand seasonal inundation by flood waters in the hot, wet summer months and endure long periods of drought through parched, thirsty winters.  Besides flooding and drought, Slash Pines have also evolved to avoid the ravages of the quick, hot wildfires that historically swept the southeast by adopting an innovative growth pattern.  Like all pines, the Slash Pine produces cones that house rather small, slightly winged seeds. When one of these little seeds finds itself in suitable environs, it sprouts and grows into a short, bushy, foxtail-shaped seedling.  While in this phase the young tree’s tender needles are very susceptible to wildfires and when touched by flame, incinerate like resinous torches, burning back to ground level.  

Beneath the soil, the young pine’s roots are insulated and ready to sprout anew after the fire’s passing. Should a young Slash Pine’s neighborhood be graced by an extended fire-free period, the seedling put on a furious growth spurt, rocketing up into a tall, scraggly sapling that hold its delicate needles high above any flames that sweep through its environment.  As adults, Slash Pines have thick, tough, reddish bark that when licked by fire will char like Paul Prudhomme’s blackened catfish, but protect the soft, crucial, living cambium layer beneath.  Slash Pine cones actually release more seeds when scorched by fire, and those little seeds, upon escaping their protective cones find the resulting ashes to be a nourishing fertilizer.  In addition, wildfire blazes eradicate any competing, invasive, less flame-resistant species.

Growing to heights up to 98 feet tall and being relatively short-lived, for a pine, at 200 years, the Slash Pine is a quick grower and an important species in the southern lumber industry.  Slash Pine is typically grouped along with other southeastern yellow pines such as Loblolly, Longleaf, and Shortleaf Pines into a wood type referred to as “hard yellowpine.” These species are harvested for lumber and wood pulp and are frequently farmed in plantations.  With its rugged good looks, Slash Pine is also sometimes employed as an ornamental landscaping tree but, with its copious, sticky, resinous sap and litter of needles and cones, it is best planted away from buildings, drives and walkways. In natural settings, Slash Pine is a keystone species and with other yellow pines, often forms extensive tracts of open-canopied woodlands in association with a dense understory of Saw Palmetto.  These pine flatwoods form the most extensive terrestrial ecosystem in Florida and provide critical habitat for several interesting, characteristic animal species including the Sherman Fox Squirrel, Florida Bobwhite, Gopher Tortoise, Bachman’s Sparrow, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Pine Warbler, Chuck-Will’s Widow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  Lake & Wetland Management regularly plants Slash Pine as part of its mitigation and reforestation projects because of its hardiness and exceptional value to native wildlife.  For more information on utilizing Slash Pine and other native vegetation in your own mitigation or beautification projects, please contact us today.