Historically, the most abundant species in the coastal plain region was the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris).
Nine native pine species are found within South Carolina. Three species are restricted to the upper Piedmont and mountain regions, three are found nearly throughout the state, and three are found primarily within the coastal plain. Pines are extremely important economically and ecologically within South Carolina. More than 5,750,000 acres of state forestland contain pine as important or dominant cover. Pines form the basis of the timber industry in South Carolina and make up the number-one cash crop in the state with approximately $900 million in receipts annually and employing more than 35,000 people.
South Carolina pines can be divided into two general groups, white pines and yellow pines. Yellow pines have needles in groups of two or three, while white pines have needles in groups of five. The only member of the white pine group found within South Carolina is the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). It is restricted to the mountains and upper Piedmont but is planted as an ornamental throughout much of the state.
Among the yellow pines, the loblolly is the most abundant. This species, along with the similar slash pine (Pinus elliottii ), is preferred for use on pine plantations. More than 4 million acres of forest in the state are classified as loblolly pine forest, while 2.4 million acres are in loblolly pine plantation. The loblolly pine was historically found in the lower Piedmont and coastal plain but has spread throughout the state through timber planting. Slash pine is native to the southern portions of the coastal plain but is planted throughout the coastal regions.
Historically, the most abundant species in the coastal plain region was the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). This species is well known for its extremely long needles and large cones. It requires low-intensity ground fires to persist and has declined dramatically over the last century due to fire suppression and conversion of longleaf pine forest into loblolly pine plantations and agricultural fields. Longleaf pine is a keystone species in the longleaf pine savannas and flat woods that are home to some of the state’s most unusual and endangered plant and animal species.
Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) are two species that are most abundant in the Piedmont region. These species are similar in that they both produce short needles and small cones. The Virginia pine produces needles that are usually less than two and one-half inches long and are twisted, while shortleaf pine produces needles that are typically three to five inches long and are straight.
Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and pond pine (Pinus serotina) both have the characteristic of sprouting new growth from the branches or trunk. These species can survive a forest fire by resprouting after the branches are burnt off. Pitch pine is found in the mountain region, and pond pine is found in the acidic shrub bogs (pocosins) of the coastal plain and the Sandhills.
Table mountain pine (Pinus pungens) is an uncommon species found on exposed ridges and rock outcrops in the mountains and upper Piedmont. The species produces large, spiny cones that are closed until they are heated by fire. In order to successfully reproduce, stands of table mountain pine must be burned.
Spruce pine (Pinus glabra) is unique among yellow pine species in that it is tolerant of shade. This species is not abundant but is found in bottomland forests in the coastal plain. The smooth upper bark and soft foliage of this species are distinctive.
Porcher, Richard D., and Douglas A. Rayner. A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
Radford, Albert E., Harry E. Ahles, and C. Ritchie Bell. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.