High Pine

Longleaf pine savannas of the southeastern United States occupy lands ranging from flat, poorly drained (even seasonally flooded) to extremely well-drained high and dry ridges. The lower, more mesic savannas are called pine flatwoods and the higher, drier stands are known as high pine. The two communities are at opposite ends of a wetness continuum, are similar in appearance, have similar fire regimes, and share many plant and animal species. Ridges within extensive areas of pine flatwoods often support more xeric species and could be considered high pine, just as low areas within high pine support flatwoods species.

The original high pine community was readily recognized by the continuous ground cover of grasses and the widely spaced longleaf pines. Today there is no virgin or old-growth high pine remaining in Florida. Examples of second growth high pine that come close to matching descriptions from early naturalists (e.g., Bartram 1791, Williams 1837) can be seen at Riverside Island in the Ocala National Forest and at The Nature Conservancy's Janet Butterfield Brooks Preserve in Hernando County. There is another, smaller example near Thomasville, Georgia.

High pine communities can occur on a variety of soils, from coarse, sterile sands to fertile calcareous or phosphatic clays to rich loamy soils underlain by clays (Myers 1990). Studies by Laessle (1958, 1967) and Kalisz et al . (1986) have shown that there are no consistent differences in the physical or chemical properties of scrub and high pine soils. The two strikingly different plant communities are maintained by differences in fire regimes. The influence of soil type apparently is secondary or even insignificant (Myers 1990).

The original high pine community in Florida was dominated by wiregrass and piney woods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus). Numerous other grasses, sedges and forbs were present as well, some making their aboveground appearances only after fire. Typical herbaceous species include wiregrass, piney woods dropseed, yellow buttons (Balduina angustifolia), silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia), green eyes (Berlandiera subacaulis), deer tongue (Carphephorus corymbosus), scrub dayflower (Commelina erecta), summer farewell (Dalea pinnata), blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia), and queen's delight (Stillingia sylvatica). There was no canopy or subcanopy in the original high pine savanna. Widely spaced longleaf pines, up to a meter in diameter, were the only large trees. (Some high pine communities in South Florida may have had South Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa) instead of longleaf pine.) Turkey oak, blue jack oak (Q. incana), post oak (Q. stellata) and sand live oak (Q. geminata) were usually present in scattered, often multi-stemmed clumps kept low and shrubby by frequent fires. Other woody plants typical of high pine include palafoxia (Palafoxia integrifolia), Chapman's oak (Q. chapmanii), and myrtle oak (Q . myrtifolia). Table 1 is a list of plant species that are typically found in peninsular Florida high pine communities. It was compiled for this report from six published and unpublished species lists from high pine sites in peninsular Florida.

Most remaining high pine communities in South Florida have been degraded by logging, fire exclusion, feral hog rooting, and cattle grazing, and appear quite different today. A typical high pine site in Florida today is characterized by extensive areas of bare ground littered with dead turkey oak leaves, scattered clumps of wiregrass, widely scattered longleaf pines, and a dominant midstory of turkey oak trees. Such a community usually is referred to as turkey oak barrens, and is often invaded by scrub species such as sand pine, garberia (Garberia heterophylla) and rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) if seed sources are nearby. Turkey oak barrens usually support a subset of the original high pine species and some scrub species as well (Campbell and Christman 1982).

Scrubby high pine is a naturally occurring plant community that is floristically and functionally intermediate between high pine and scrub. Scrubby high pine usually contains longleaf pine or south Florida slash pine, turkey oak and scattered clumps of wiregrass, and has yellow sand, all conditions typical of high pine. However scrubby high pine also contains typical scrub species, such as sand pine, the evergreen scrub oaks, garberia, and rosemary, and it supports several species that are restricted or nearly restricted to it such as scrub hickory (Carya floridana), scrub buckwheat (Eriogonum longifolium var. gnaphthalifolium), pigeonwing, Lewton's polygala, and the scrub balms (Dicerandra spp.) (Christman 1988a, 1988b, Christman and Judd 1990). Scrubby high pine easily can be confused with man-made turkey oak barrens but references from the 18th and 19th centuries (cited in Myers 1990) attest to the natural occurrence of scrubby high pine long before the original longleaf pine savannas were logged. Scrubby high pine appears to be associated with topographically diverse landscapes where long-term firereturn intervals have been exceedingly variable (Myers and Boettcher 1987, Christman 1988b, Myers 1990).

Taken from: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan. Atlanta, Georgia. Pp.3:6-7.

Listed Species Occurring in High Pine Habitat

  • Red Cockaded Woodpecker
  • Sand Skink
  • Blutetail Mole Skink
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Britton's Beargrass
  • Tiny Polygala
  • Carter's Mustard
  • Scrub Buckwheat
  • Florida Bonamia
  • Papery Whitlow-wort
  • Wide-leaf Warea
  • Pigeon Wings
  • Lewton's Polygala
  • Florida Ziziphus
  • Scrub Plum