Parks Foundation to replant rare longleaf pine forests destroyed by Hurricane Michael

Longleaf pines once numerous in the Southeast are now very rare. Hurricane Michael in 2018 destroyed many of those left in north Florida. The Florida State Parks Foundation is leading a replanting campaign. Credit: Florida State Parks Foundation

Rare longleaf pine trees destroyed by Hurricane Michael in a state park near Bristol will soon be replaced with seedlings paid for and planted by fans of the Florida State Parks Foundation.

Longleaf pines, which once covered 90 million acres in the Southeast, were heavily logged in the 1800s, according to the National Forest Foundation. Many of the slow-growing giants that were still left went down along with 500 million common varieties of pine trees when Michael blasted north Florida with 155 mph winds in October 2018.

Parks Foundation President Gil Ziffer of Tallahassee announced Tuesday that the parks support organization’s “Plant a Pine” campaign raised enough in donations since April to plant more than 20,000 longleaf seedlings in parks around the state, starting with Torreya State Park in the hurricane disaster area.

“This campaign has really resonated with the public,” Ziffer said in a press statement. “For every $1 donated, we will plant one longleaf pine seedling in a Florida State Park.”

The campaign started on Earth Day two months ago. Its goal in conjunction with the Florida Park Service is to raise enough money to plant 100,000 trees by Earth day 2021, Ziffer said.

Longleaf pine forests now cover less than 3 percent of their historic range, according to the Parks Foundation. They were logged for timber used to build houses, ships and railroads and their resin was made into turpentine.

Biologists say the rare trees provide habitat for 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, and indigo snakes.

Torreya State Park is named for the exceedingly rare torreya tree, also called gopherwood, which is mentioned in the Bible and gave rise to the region being popularly referred to as the Garden of Eden. Eighteen percent of the trees were destroyed by the hurricane, according to the Park Service, and biologists are striving to restore them, too.