In 1949, the U.S. state of Alabama chose the Southern pine to represent the region. This is a general name for many different species of pine, however, so in 1997, the government chose the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris Miller to become Alabama's state tree. A native of the area, this tree likes to grow in hot climates. The longleaf pine, recognizable by its very long needles, looks like grass for the first few years of its lifespan.
Many types of evergreen pine trees grow in the Alabama region. Traditionally, the typical term for several of these species, such as loblolly pine, was Southern pine. This is why, in 1997, the state tree of Alabama changed to a specific species, called the longleaf pine. As this tree grows across the country from Texas to Virginia, the state of Carolina also has the longleaf pine as its state tree.
Traditionally, the state tree of Alabama was present in much of the country in forests. As the wood was so useful as construction material and as timber for shipbuilding, most of the longleaf forests disappeared. As well as lumber, the longleaf produces tar, rosin and turpentine from the resin inside the tree. The state tree of Alabama likes to grow in areas that are hot, and prefer soil that is not rich in organic matter, such as sandy soil.
When the longleaf pine is young, it stays low to the ground. The tree grows lots of very long needles, which can be up to 18 inches (about 46 cm)in length. These needles can make the young plant look like grass. This tree can spend as long as five years in the short phase before growing into an adult tree. When it does grow, it can reach heights of 150 feet (about 46 m), but this can take as long as 300 years. Their cones are also quite large compared to many other pines in Alabama, and can be as much as 10 inches (about 25 cm) long.
Longleaf pine has evolved to deal with regular forest fires, and the long green needles that stick out from the young, short tree, protect the inside part of the tree from the intensity of the fires. Seeds inside the pine cones also grow better after the ground has experienced a fire. As many state governments now control and prevent forest fires, other trees and plants may compete with the longleaf pine for space and nutrients, and prevent the growth of the longleaf.