Longleaf pine cone prospects for this fall – well there is always next year

By Dr. Ron Masters, Director of Research

The forecasts for longleaf cone crops are now out for 2011 and 2012.  The crop for the Red Hills area is slightly better than last year but still is very poor for this fall, based on cone production from Tall Timbers and the closest sampling areas. Tall Timbers’ cone crop was one of the lowest recorded this year. Across the broader Coastal Plain the longleaf cone crop is rated a high fair. However, there is a lot of variation in cone counts in north Florida and in south Georgia, so your property might have better potential than our sampling. Given the natural variability of longleaf cone production, we would expect that a few areas in the Red Hills might have fair to good production. The likely crop in 2012 will be fair, based on the number of flowers this past spring. However predictions from flowers are not as reliable as cone counts. Often fewer than half will survive to become conelets the following year, as in our case at Tall Timbers this year.

Cone crop estimates from Tall Timbers (7 cones/tree) are well below the southeast regional average (48 cones/tree) for longleaf, and will not provide adequate seed to meet regeneration needs this year (Figure 1). Although some longleaf seed is generally produced each year even in poor years, the seed is highly sought after by quail and other ground foraging birds, as well as small mammals and turkey, because of its excellent nutritional quality. Typically an average of 30 cones/tree, with at least 25 mature (14-16 inch dbh) cone producing trees per acre, is considered to be the minimum requirement for successful regeneration of longleaf. The 46-year regional average is 28 cones/tree. Since 1983, the cone crop has generally been increasing across the region.

Average cones per tree

Figure 1.  A comparison of longleaf cone counts on Tall Timbers (Red Hills) and averaged across the southeast region from Louisiana to North Carolina in 2010 and 2011.

This data is compiled and reported every year by Dr. Dale Brockway, Southern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service stationed in Auburn, AL. The survey samples sites from Louisiana to North Carolina and includes samples from a longleaf area on Tall Timbers Research Station. Each year binocular counts of conelets and flowers are made on 10 selected tree crowns from a single ground location at each of the cooperating sample sites. This long-term data is extremely beneficial as it gives us an understanding of the natural variability in longleaf seed crops across the region, and what we might expect locally for future planning of regeneration in relation to stand management.

Using binoculars to count cones

Eric Staller, Natural Resources Coordinator, counting longleaf cones on Tall Timbers to determine seed crop for this fall.

Be sure to check the cone crop on your property and specifically in the stands where you may be seeking to develop regeneration. Longleaf cones are large and conspicuous so it is not exactly ‘rocket science’ to get an indication of the cone crop on your trees and in your stands. We recommend that you use this report as a prompt to go take a look at your stands. In years like this, you may want to consider planting containerized seedlings to achieve your regeneration needs, if they are pressing. Or you might consider banking whatever regeneration you get and waiting until next year to do your site preparation.

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