High Pine

a typical overstory of longleaf pine, photo by Julie Anne Ferguson DemersHigh pine is an upland savanna-like ecosystem typified by an open overstory of Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) and a ground cover of perennial grasses (primarily wiregrass) and forbs interspersed with oaks. High pine ecosystems once encompassed the following community types: sandhill, clayhill, longleaf pine/turkey oak barrens, and upland pine forests.

In an old-growth longleaf pine-wiregrass habitat, trees account for less than 2% of the plant species richness. More than 98% of the plants in this habitat (>400) rarely grow taller than knee-height.

longleaf pine, photo by Larry KorhnakPerhaps the most dominant natural force in longleaf forests is fire. Fairly frequent fire is required in these communities to maintain the diversity and stucture of the vegetation.

Visit our Other Forest Values page in the Forest Management section for information about restoring longleaf pine sandhill communities.


There are several variations of the sandhill ecosystem. Where fire is excluded and/or the pines have been removed, oaks dominate. Ground cover under trees and shrubs is scattered and sometimes absent.

longleaf pineOverstory:

  • longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

Of the 25 million hectares of longleaf pine forests that existed in the coastal plain before European settlement, about 3% of the uplands support high pine vegetation today.

longleaf pine needles, photo by Julie Anne Ferguson DemersLongleaf pine has several adaptations that allow it to survive surface fires and is categorized within a group of pines that are fire-resistant, not fire-resilient like sand pine. These adaptations include:

  • an interim stage of development between the seedling and sapling stages known as the grass stage, which gives the tree additional protection from fire;
  • a terminal bud that remains near ground level for several years, sometimes a decade or more;
  • needles that are dense, long and moisture-laden.


Today, because of changes in fire regimes that followed the exploitation of longleaf pine, most sandhills are dominated by Quercus laevis (turkey oak). Other hardwoods commonly found on sandhills include:

  • bluejack oak (Quercus incana) may be dominant with turkey oak
  • southern red oak or Spanish oak (Q. falcata) on more mesic, fertile sites
  • blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) in the panhandle
  • sand post oak (Q. stellata var. margaretta)
  • live oak (Q. virginiana)
  • Arkansas oak (Q. arkansana)
  • persimmon(Diospyros virginiana)
  • black cherry (Prunus serotina)
  • sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
  • mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa)
  • sand hickory (Carya pullida)


  • sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum)
  • pawpaw (Asimina incarna)
  • myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia) and other evergreen oaks

For more information on these and other trees and shrubs, visit our Trees of Florida page.

wiregrass, photo by Julie Anne Ferguson DemersHerbaceous Plants:

  • wiregrass (Aristida stricta)
  • bluestems (Andropogon spp.)
  • piney woods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus)
  • bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)
  • gopher apple (Licania michauxii)
  • golden aster (Pityopsis graminifolia)
  • low-bush blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinities)
  • blackberry (Rubus cuneifolius)
  • hairawn muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

Threatened or Endangered Plants


  • east coast coontie (Zamia umbrosa)
  • Florida coontie (Zamia floridana)

Herbaceous Plants and Vines:

  • Godfrey's blazing star (Liatris provincialis)

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red-cockaded woodpecker, Fort Bragg, US ArmyHigh pine supports many vertebrates found in a number of Florida's habitats. A minority of these, however, depend on these dry upland habitats for survival. A few of those are introduced here.

The Picoides borealis (red cockaded woodpecker (RCW)) is a federally-listed endangered species which epitomizes old-growth longleaf pine forests of both highlands and flatwoods. This bird is at the center of controversy over the management of public forests because:

  • the RCW nests in cavities of large old pines - this habitat is nearly decimated with the demise of longleaf pine forests.

Other fauna which typify high pine habitats include:

Sherman's fox squirrel, photo by Larry KorhnakMammals:

  • Sherman's fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani)
  • pocket gopher (Geomys pinetis)

The above animal species are state species of special concern.


  • bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus)
  • ground dove (Columbigallina passerina)
  • rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erthrophthalmus)


  • gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
  • fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

Threatened or Endangered Species


  • Florida mouse (Peromyscus floridanus)
  • Florida panther (Felix concolor coryi)


  • southeastern kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus)
  • red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)


  • blue-tailed mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividius)
  • eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi)
  • short-tailed snake (Stilosoma extenuatum)
  • gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

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