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Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of ...

08 March 2016

Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of wandering amongst the impressive Longleaf Pine Forest at Mobile Botanical Gardens, twice.



Once a common pine in the Coastal Plains, P. palustris populations have unfortunately declined to the point of endangerment. Controlled burns are crucial to this pine species, and less than a month before my visit, MBG performed a prescribed burn. It was interesting to see charred bark at the base of many trees, as well as the resilience of the longleaf seedlings. I wanted so badly to see the grass stage of the seedlings, and I was not disappointed!




P. palustris pinecones are HUGE! After a burn, they turn into a white powder.


(*Correction* 2.2.17 - I just realised upon seeing other photos of the shell, that I actually saw box turtle remains. When I saw the shell I knew it was not a gopher turtle, but months after my visit, some memories were a bit unclear. When I thought of turtles and longleaf pine forests, my my mind went to gopher tortoises and I didn't review the other photos of the shell that I took. Gopher tortoises and hatchlings far from their burrows may be vulnerable to fire, but generally they are in their burrows, safe from harm. I'm leaving the following paragraph up because it is useful to know about gopher turtles especially as they relate to longleaf forests. I'll also attach additional pictures of the shell.) 

*I (mistakenly, at the time of creating this post,) thought that I found the remains of a gopher tortoise, which I suspected was an unfortunate victim of the burn. Gopherus polyphemus inhabit longleaf pine ecosystems as they are the most suitable habitat (although there are plenty in other habitats). Due to the decrease in longleaf pine, gopher tortoise populations have also suffered.*
The remains were actually those of Terrapene carolina (box turtle), which have been documented victims of prescribed burns (thanks Gil for the ID and link). I had two theories; either the lightning strike (mentioned below) or the burn killed the turtle. The latter makes sense. 
 
Similar to gopher tortoises, box turtles are threatened by habitat loss.





Another neat sight was a longleaf pine that was struck by lightning. The splinters made it clear across the street, and a huge chunk lodged into the ground; this was a testament to the power of nature!





There were more sights to behold! I nearly stepped on a small toad, which I picked up and held before placing in a safe area off the trail. Further down the path I saw Rhexia sp., Hibiscus acleatus, and more!





It was a treat to see the forest after a recent burn. How incredible to think that something so destructive as fire could be so crucial in encouraging growth and diversity in the Longleaf ecosystem.

The Longleaf Pine Forest at MBG has a few different paths to wander down, and is open outside of the garden hours, even on days the garden is closed. If you are in that area I highly recommend talking a stroll through, so you can see the beauty for yourself!

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Click here for more photos.

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I still have two more posts to make detailing my adventures at Dauphin Island and Splinter Hill Bog! It's been some time but I definitely will get them posted.

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