Slash pines in the Smith Preserve are species Pinus elliotti variety densa. This subspecies known as South Florida slash pine or Dade County pine is found in pine flatwoods of southern Florida. The tree is called a slash pine because it normally grows in a slash habitat (swampy ground overgrown with trees and bushes.)
The South Florida slash pine is a fast-growing, long-lived tree that grows to a height of 131 feet with a trunk diameter of 2 to 2.6 feet. Its bark is corky and chunky as shown in the photograph at left. As shown at right, leaves are needle-like, very slender, in bundles of two, and 7.1 to 9.4 in long.
At about ten years of age, a tree produces both male and female cones. Male cones produce pollen. After a female cone has been wind-pollinated, it produces seeds, called pine nuts. As shown below, each female cone is glossy red-brown, 2 to 4.7 inches long, and has a short thick prickle on each scale.
In nature, lightning starts fires that burn pine flatwoods, but slash pines have special adaptations that help them survive. The thick, corky bark is the tree's first defense. If the fire is intense, the tree's sap begins to boil, sputter, and explode. This caused the burning bark to be propelled away from the tree. As pine cones heat up, they explode, spreading pine nuts that will develop into new trees.
Slash pines are valuable to wildlife and people:
1) The dense foliage provides cover and shelter for animals. For example, large slash pines provide nesting sites for bald eagles.
2) Pine nuts are eaten by squirrels and birds.
3) Some insects ...bark beetles, wood borers, moth larvae, scales, and mites... eat the wood and needles.
4) Sapsucker woodpeckers feed on the sap. Along the Hammock Trail you may notice many holes that have been drilled into the bark. The holes, left behind by sapsuckers, fill with sap and trap insects. During breeding season, sapsuckers return to collect the trapped victims to feed to their young.
5) At one time, people used slash pines for production of turpentine, resins, pine tar, and explosives. Today, slash pines are used for lumber and pulp.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).
Please report errors to Susan Snyder @ email@example.com