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'It’s truly part of our heritage': Botanical garden hosts program dedicated to longleaf pine

lifestyle-saving-our-savannas

Texture courtesy of Unsplash.

Julie Moore, a board member for the Southern Conservation Partners, has no shortage of enthusiasm for the longleaf pine.  

This is in part because she has witnessed first-hand the intriguing systems and ecological significance of the habitats of the pine — which is the North Carolina state tree.    

Her fascination led her and the SCP, which promotes localized care of Southern environmental resources, to partner with the North Carolina Botanical Garden and sponsor a six-month series highlighting and honoring the longleaf pine, called “Saving Our Savannas.”  

The themed educational series, the garden’s first since 2020, will feature what Moore described as a jam-packed agenda of guest speakers, workshops and field trips both at and away from the garden from now until June. 

The garden is working with a large team of partners and sponsors to bring in many cultural, historical and environmental perspectives on the longleaf. 

Each month will cover a different theme, from the tree’s ecological traits to its impact on North Carolina history.

“With this series, we're hoping to raise awareness, get people interested in longleaf ecosystems and hopefully encourage people to get involved in their conservation,” Emily Oglesby, the communications and exhibits coordinator at the botanical garden, said

The longleaf pine habitat once covered 90 million acres from Texas to southern Virginia, but reached its lowest point of 3.2 million acres 25 years ago. Since then, conservation efforts have regained 2 million acres of land, according to Debbie Crane, the communication director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy, which is leading restoration efforts for longleaf across the south, is also helping lead the program.

With themes like “Longleaf Pine Natural Areas and Their Amazing Adaptations to Fire” and “Introduction to Longleaf Pine Communities,” the program plans to emphasize the tree’s ecological value. 

Along with rainforests, longleaf habitats have some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, according to Crane.

Longleaf savannas are home to the famous and rare carnivorous venus fly traps, and even tortoises, which Moore said have been found on properties in longleaf habitats. 

“People love these systems,” Moore said. “They have a lot of — maybe the word is charisma — they've got a distinct personality.”

A fiery personality, perhaps. One of the distinct qualities of longleaf pine forests is its need to burn for its biodiversity to stay at a healthy balance. 

Part of the program is demonstrating and observing controlled burns, while also teaching private landowners who have longleaf pine to do controlled burns themselves.

Inspiration for this inferno instruction comes from Native Americans that used to populate these longleaf habitats. 

“Before Europeans got here, nature was in balance in North Carolina,” Crane said. “But it was not just a wild situation. It was being in balance because you also had these folks who really understood the land spoke to them.”

The program will feature events exploring the perspectives of N.C. tribes, including the Waccamaw Siouan and Lumbee tribes

According to Moore, the longleaf is a tree that built America, because of its strong historical influence on N.C

The trees were used to make naval stores, or barrels, that turned N.C. into a leader in the shipping industry. Crane said the programs will put a strong emphasis on educating about the enslaved people who worked to fuel the industry.

North Carolina’s state tree, toast and mascot reflect the influence of the longleaf. Even the term Tar Heel refers to the longleaf tar left on the bare feet of North Carolinian workers. Crane said she thinks that UNC fans should love the long leaf pine.

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Though the longleaf has deep historical significance, Moore said that it is not just a tree of the past. Longleaf pine and its habitat is very resistant to extreme storms, increased pests, and will likely do well with climate change. 

“It’s a tree for our times,” Crane said. “It’s a pretty amazing thing.”

Crane, Moore and Oglesby all had their fair share of words to describe their love for the longleaf pine, from ‘amazing’ and ‘special’, to ‘incredible’. Moore called a longleaf burn and its animal sightings “the coolest thing she’s ever seen”. 

@jacksonfromm29

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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