Silvics of Shortleaf Pine

Home Why Shortleaf? Silvics

Bill Pickens

Conifer Silviculturist, North Carolina Forest Service

Shortleaf pine, Pinus echinata, is the most widely distributed, but perhaps least understood of the four major southern yellow pines.2 Growing in 22 states from southern New York to eastern Texas, it occupies the largest range (Fig. 1) of any pine in the southeastern United States.5 Its extensive distribution reflects it adaptability to a great variety of soil, average annual temperatures (48–70-degree F), total precipitation (40–60 inches) and elevations (up to 3000 feet).6 Throughout much of its range, but especially in the East, it is a species of minor and varying occurrence often found growing with other pines and hardwoods. In Arkansas and Missouri, where it is the only naturally occurring pine, we find widespread areas of pure and mixed shortleaf-oak stands.

Shortleaf pine is a medium to large tree reaching 80 to 100 feet tall and 2–3 feet in diameter in a lifespan of 200 years. The straight bole (Fig. 4) with low taper supports a small pyramidal crown. The short needles, small cones, and platy bark (Fig. 2) with distinct small resin pockets, allow for easy identification of mature trees. We can distinguish shortleaf seedlings from other pines by the distinctive double crook (Fig. 3) formed at or just below the forest floor.8 Seedlings and saplings top-killed after a fire have the ability to sprout from special reproductive buds located in this basal SLPI - 02 crook.7 The sprouting ability provides shortleaf a unique competitive advantage over many other species.

Matoon Range
Figure 1: Range map showing the distribution of shortleaf across the east and depicting commercial and botanical distribution. Credit: Mattoon, 1915

Although found on many different types of soil, shortleaf is most competitive on dry shallow nutrient poor soils. Shortleaf pine is found in pure or mixed stands on upland sites associated with loblolly and Virginia pine, a variety of oaks including, white, black, scarlet, post, and chestnut, eastern red cedar, and hickory.6 Shortleaf has low tolerance for poor soil aeration or a high water table. As a pioneer species, it is well suited to invade old fields or disturbed sites, but usually gives way to faster growing, more competitive species. Shortleaf is favored on south and west facing aspects; thin, rocky soils, on higher elevations north and west of the loblolly range, and on too dry, warm, and infertile for eastern white pine.

Shortleaf pine trees begin to produce seed crops around age 20. Trees greater than 12 inches in diameter are most likely to produce more and higher quality seed. Although some trees produce seed every year, good to excellent

Figure 2: Shortleaf pine needles (left image). Shortleaf bark, with circular resin pockets (middle). Shortleaf cones (right). Credit: Megan Robertson, Holly Campbell, and Bill Pickens.

cone crops happen every 3–6 years in the southern and western areas of its range; and 3–10 years in the northern and eastern areas.6 Overall, poor, irregular seed crops are common for shortleaf pine. Seedfall begins in late October to early November with a majority of the seed falling 75 to 150 feet from the tree. Each of the small cones contains 25–30 seed. A tree may have 130 cones in a good year.

Figure 3: This shortleaf seedling shows the species’ unique basal crook (arrow indicates), where it sprouts from following fire damage. Credit: Bill Pickens

Foresters describe the growth of shortleaf pine as slow but steady. For its first two years, shortleaf pine uses most of its resources developing a root system. During this period, faster growing competitors easily overtop it. Shortleaf pine feeder roots are smaller and more abundant in the upper few inches of the soil than loblolly.11 It is considered windfirm thanks to a deep taproot and extensive lateral roots.4,8 Shortleaf pine exhibits slow annual growth rate during its first 10–20 years. By age 20, its growth rate becomes close to that of loblolly pine and around age 50 is greater.10 The steady growth rate and the species greater lifespan favor long rotations.9 Shortleaf is shade intolerant. Foresters usually manage it as an even aged stand. It persists in very dense stand conditions and responds to release thinning even when the trees are mature.6,13 Shortleaf tolerates competition longer than loblolly pine. Control of understory competition increases the growth rate. Its growth rate and sprouting ability is similar to several oak species allowing for mixed stand management with oaks.

Figure 4: This 70 year old shortleaf depicts the straightness, taper, small branches, and slow growth desired for top grade lumber. Credit: Bill Pickens

Shortleaf pine is a valued timber tree. Its wood quality, including the juvenile wood, is superior to loblolly pine. The qualities required for high grade sawtimber include; straightness, low taper, high wood density, small branches, high proportion of latewood, and no fewer than 4 growth rings in the last inch of radial growth.1,12 At age 40 the proportion of high-value pole size timber may be as high as 40 percent. Most studies have documented that loblolly pine has 10–15 point site quality index (base 50) advantage over shortleaf pine. However, Harrington reported the difference between loblolly and shortleaf site quality indexes decreased as the site quality increased; the highest quality sites have little or no growth advantage.3 Shortleaf also makes a valuable landscape tree in urban and residential areas (Fig. 4).

Figure 5: Shortleaf as an attractive landscape at a Georgia site. Credit: Megan Robertson

Shortleaf is the favored pine of the southern pine beetle, in part because its low resin flow cannot expel invading beetles. Shortleaf pine is resistant to fusiform rust a common problem of loblolly and slash pine plantations.Littleleaf disease is a serious threat to shortleaf that reduces growth rates and causes mortality. Shortleaf has the lowest risk to ice storms damage of the major southern pines.


Comparison of traits among the four major southern pines.12 1=High and 4=Low

Trait Shortleaf Loblolly Longleaf Slash
Fusiform rust resistance 1 2 1 3
Southern Pine Beetle susceptibility 1 2 4 3
Littleleaf disease susceptibility 1 2 4 2
Drought resistance 2 3 2 4
Cold resistance 1 2 3 4
Ice resistance 1 2 3 4
Tolerance of wet soils 3 2 3 1
Fertility needs 3 1 3 2
Resistance to stagnation 2 3 3 4


1Dickens, David E., B. Jackson, D.J. Moorhead, and B.C. McElvany. 2005. A guide to southern pine products and general specification. UGA-WSFR Extension Note-November 2005. accessed: August 2014

2Guldin, James M. 2007. Restoration and management of shortleaf pine in pure and mixed stands- science, empirical observation, and the wishful application of generalities. In proceedings: Shortleaf Pine Restoration in the Ozarks. Nor. Res.Sta. GTR NRS-P-15. Pp 47-58. USDA Forest Service, Washington DC

3Harrington, Constance A. 1987. Site-index comparisons for naturally seeded loblolly pine and shortleaf pine. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry 11(2):86-91.

4Harrington, Constance A., J C. Brissette, and W. C Carlson. 1989. Root system structure in planted and seeded loblolly and shortleaf pine. Forest Science. 35(2): 469-480.

5Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1971. Atlas of United States trees. vol. 1. Conifers and important hardwoods. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Miscellaneous Publication 1146. Washington, DC. 9 p., 313 maps.

6Lawson, E.R. 1990. Shortleaf pine. In Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers. Vol 1 AgricultureHandbook. No. 654. pp 316-326. USDA Forest Service., Washington DC.

7Masters, R. E. 2008. Fire ecology and management of shortleaf pine., Accessed 2007.

8Mattoon, W. R. 1915 Life history of shortleaf pine. Bulletin of the US Department of Agriculture, No. 244. Washington, D.C. 46 pp.

9Smalley, Glendon W. 1986. Stand Dynamics of Unthinned and Thinned Shortleaf Plantations. In: Proceedings: Symposium on the shortleaf pine ecosystem, P.A. Murphy (editor), Little Rock, Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, 272 pp.

10Strub, Mike R. 1992. Choosing the right site-a forest industry view. In: Proceedingd of the Shortleaf Pine Regeneration Workshop. GTR-SO-90. pp163-166. USDA Forest Service, New Orleans, LA.

11Walker, Laurence C. and Harry V Wiant. Jr, 1966. Silviculture of Shortleaf Pine. Forestry Bulletin No. 9: Forestry Bulletins Vol. 1-25, 1957-1972. Book 8. Stephen F Austin State College, Nacogdoches, TX.

12White, Fred. 2006. Why Shortleaf? Values and growth and yield of shortleaf. Presentation given January 11, 2006 . Shortleaf Restoration. NC State University Extension Forestry, Forestry Issues Teleconference Series. Unpublished.

13Yocum, Herbert A. 1971 Releasing shortleaf pine increases seed and cone production. Sothern Forest Experiment Station. RN-SO-125. USDA Forest Service, New Orleans, LA. pp.2

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