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What's in a Name?

Although over the decades, longleaf pine has assumed many different common names, the scientific name Pinus palustris Mill. has been (for the most part) consistently used by foresters and botanists since its nomenclatural dating in the mid 18th century. Philip Miller, superintendent of the Chelsea Physic Garden and British author of a series of widely used and authoritative horticultural dictionaries, first defined longleaf pine in Mill. Gard. Dict. Ed. 3, iii. Sp. No. 19 (1737) as:

19. Pinus Americana palustris patula, longissimis & viridibus setis. Marsh spreading American Pine, with the longest green Leaves (foliis longissimis).

By 1768, Miller had shortened the epithet of longleaf pine to its present form of Pinus palustris. Passages and illustrations in Miller's dictionary seem to credibly support the identification of longleaf pine, while others have proved to be confounding. Miller describes longleaf as the "pine tree with the longest leaves growing by threes out of each sheath" and "their leaves are a foot or more in length, growing in tufts at the end of the branches". However, certain accounts in Miller's dictionary have led others to believe that he in fact was describing the foliage specimen of loblolly pine (P. taeda L).

The most obvious folly in Miller's description of longleaf pine is that he states it "grows naturally on low moist boggy places, and will not thrive on a dry soil." Pinus palustris translates literally to "swamp pine".  Although many historical photographs of virgin longleaf pine forests show that longleaf pine clearly was not confined to upland areas, swampy bottomlands were certainly not its preferred habitat. Webster's dictionary defines loblolly as a "muddy puddle". During the time when fire moved freely across the southern landscape (stopped only by streams and swamps), loblolly pine was likely the pine species found in those swampy areas where frequent fire was not present. More than likely, Miller was simply an "armchair botanist" whose description of longleaf pine's habitat was based merely on hearsay or misinformation from colleagues.

In 1796, R.A. Salisbury felt that Pinus longifolia Salis was a more appropriate nomenclature for longleaf pine than that given by Miller and pushed for its acceptance. However, Article 63 of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature prevents the renaming of species for "superfluous" reasons, and thus Salisbury’s renaming attempt of longleaf pine was rejected.

For a period of time, a gathering of botanists felt that F.A. Michaux should be credited with first describing longleaf pine as Pinus australis Michx. f. Hist. Arb. Am. I. 64, pl. 6 (1810). Based on the articulate written definition and clear illustrations of longleaf pine, these botanists felt that Michaux was, in fact, discovering a species of pine completely different from that of Miller. However, it is doubtful that Michaux was defining a different species then Miller. Michaux was, in fact, merely giving longleaf pine an epithet that he felt was more appropriate: "I have thought likewise that the specific name 'australis' was preferable to that of 'palustris', under which this species has been described by botanists; for this last gives an absolutely false idea of the nature of the soil where this tree grows."  Pinus australis translates to "southern pine". Michaux's naming of longleaf pine was also rejected.

In more modern times, longleaf pine has suffered further identity crisis. Today, many simply lump longleaf pine as "southern pine" or "yellow pine" - no different from other southern pines. From a tree once recognized worldwide for its beauty and timber value, to one of near anonymity. The loss of longleaf pine has been more than that of simply acreage.

 

Common Names for Longleaf Pine

American pitch pine, Amerikaanse, pitchpine, Bogalusa pine, broom pine, brown pine, Calcasieu pine, fat pine, figured-tree, Florida longleaf pine, Florida pine, Florida yellow pine, Georgia heart pine, Georgia longleaf pine, Georgia pine, Georgia pitch pine, Georgia yellow pine, Gulf Coast pitch pine, hard pine, heart pine, hill pine, high pine, langbarrig tall, longleaf, longleaf pine, long-leaf pitch pine, longleaf yellow pine, longleaved pitch pine, longstraw pine, madera pino, moeras-pijn, North Carolina pitch pine, palustris pine, pin de Boston, pin des marais, pino del sur, pino giallo, pino grasso, pino palustre, pino pantano, pino, pece, pino tea, pino tea roja, pitch pine, pitchpin, pitchpin americain, red pine, Rosemary pine, Sabine pine, soderns gul-all, southern hard pine, southern heart pine, southern pine, southern pitch pine, southern yellow pine, sump-all, sumpf kiefer, sydstaternas gul-tall, tea pine, Texas longleaf pine, Texas yellow pine, turpentine pine, yellow pine.

 

Sources
Fernald, M.L. (1948) The confused bases of the name Pinus palustris. Rhodora 50: 241-249.

Little, E.L. (1948) Notes on nomenclature of trees. Phytologia 2: 457-458.

Minter, Sue (2001) The Apothecaries Garden - A History of the Chelsea Physic Garden. Sutton Publishing. 210 pages

Ward, D.B. (1974) On the scientific name of the longleaf pine. Rhodora 76: 20-24.

 

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