Loblolly pine

Pinus taeda
Family: Pinaceae

Natural Historyloblolly branch
Needles and cones of loblolly pine
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

The word "loblolly" originally meant a thick porridge or gruel served to English sailors. When Europeans first came to settle the southeastern United States, they used that word to describe some of the local swamps where they found mud with the same thick, gooey consistency. The term also came to be applied to some of the plants that commonly grew in these areas, which is how loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) got their common names.

Today loblolly pine, also called oldfield pine, is the most important commercial timber in the southeastern United States. Over 50% of the standing pine in the southeast is loblolly. The specific epithet, taeda, comes from the Latin word for torch and refers to the resinous wood.

This is an easily-seeded, fast-growing member of the yellow pine group and is an aggressive invader in fallow fields. It is widely grown in plantations for commercial timber production, but also has been planted to help stabilize soil and reduce erosion or as a noise and wind barrier. Loblolly has also been planted in mine reclamation areas and due to its high litter and biomass productivity, loblolly pine is being studied as a possible alternative source for energy.

Habitat & Range

Loblolly pine prefers acid soils and full sun, but will adapt to a variety of sites, including fertile, upland fields, moist forests, or with mixed hardwoods. It is often found in association with shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). Loblolly pine is widely scattered throughout the forests of the coastal plains and lower Piedmont plateau.  It is very vigorous on fallow fields and cutover lands. It will often fully restock such areas in a relatively short time.

Loblolly pine is found throughout much of the southeastern United States from New Jersey to central Florida and west into Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma. It is not found in the lower Mississippi Valley.

Wildlife Use

Loblolly pine stands are important for numerous wildlife species. The trees provide habitat for many animals, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, gray squirrels, rabbit, quail, and doves. Many songbirds feed on the seeds and help propagate the trees through seed dispersal. Red crossbills depend on loblolly pine seeds for up to 50% of their diet. Other birds who frequent the trees include pine warblers, Bachman's warblers, and brown-headed nuthatches. Osprey and bald eagles often nest in tall loblolly pines. Two endangered species that also use these pines are fox squirrels, which eat the cones, and red-cockaded woodpeckers, which will sometimes nest in old growth trees.

Human Use

The wood of this tree, which is marketed as southern yellow pine, is of lower quality than that of longleaf or shortleaf pines in terms of lumber and is therefore primarily used for pulp and paper products. However, it is possible for use as lumber or plywood. Loblolly pine wood may be sold interchangeably with shortleaf pine. Loblolly pine is the state tree of Arkansas.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Loblolly pine is a large evergreen tree that reaches heights of 40 meters, with a trunk about a meter in diameter. It has a long, clear bole that is occasionally buttressed, ascending limbs, and a rounded, spreading crown. Young trees retain lower branches much longer than slash or longleaf pines.
Pines have long needle-like leaves that are held in bundles called "fascicles" with a sheath holding the needles together at the base. The first steps toward identifying each species are 1) measuring the length of the needles, 2) counting the number in a fascicle, and 3) measuring the length of the sheath. Be sure to check a few branches to get an average for the whole tree.

On loblolly pine, the needles are 10 to 17 cm long, and borne in fascicles of 3 or occasionally 2. They are dark yellowish green or sometimes grayish green, thick but flexible, and sometimes slightly twisted. The sheath is 1-1.5 cm long. The needles are often persistent through the end of the second season.

Twigs: The twigs are thin, yellowish- to reddish-brown, and scaly. The buds are slightly resinous.
Bark: Young bark is yellowish-gray or a light reddish-brown. Mature bark is dark grayish-brown. Furrows in the trunk break it into elongated, broad, irregular plates.
All pines are gymnosperms, which means that they reproduce with seeds but do not bear flowers or fruits. All pines are also monoecious, meaning that they bear both seed and pollen cones in separate structures on the same plant. The seeds cones can be "serotinous" (meaning that they remain closed at maturity and only open in response to a fire) or they can be "nonserotinous" (meaning that they open to release the seeds as soon as they are mature).

On loblolly pine, the pollen cones are 2-4 cm long and yellowish brown, sometimes with a hint of red.

The young seed cones are yellow turning to green and generally appear in clusters of 2 or 3 (rarely solitary). Mature seed cones are 6-10 cm long and anywhere from light to dark brown. The cones are egg-shaped to cylindrical and either sit directly on the branch or on very short stalks. The exposed part of each scale forms a diamond shape that is crossed by a distinct ridge with a stout, sharp spine in the middle. Loblolly pine produces a large number of cones and there are usually many cones on the tree at any time of year. The cones are nonserotinous and usually fall soon after maturity.

Seeds: The seeds of loblolly pine are 5-7 mm, with an attached wing adding 15-23 mm.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are four pine species on our list.
  • Loblolly Pine has needles in fascicles of 3. The needles are 4 to 9 inches long.
  • Longleaf Pine has needles in fascicles of 3 or occasionally 4. The needles are 8 to 18 inches long.
  • Pond Pine has needles in fascicles of 3 or occasionally 4. The needles are 4 to 8 inches long.
  • Slash Pine has needles in fascicles of 2 or occasionally 3. The needles are 5 to 12 inches long.



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