Commercial growers of longleaf pines cut and sell their trees for the same uses that are made of other pines. The pines grown across the southeast today fall into two general use categories: (1.) pulpwood, used in production of a variety of paper products and (2.) those used as building materials. This latter category is further subdivided, roughly by size, into product classes known by such names as chip-n-saw, sawtimber, plylogs, and poles. The value of all these products is dependent on what mills are willing to pay for wood delivered to their woodyards. These prices, in turn, are dependent on the national and international markets for the finished products. But in general, a cord of pulpwood would be worth much less than a cord of the logs destined to become building materials.
Although a number of factors come into pay and there can be a wide variation, in general, the older and larger a tree is, the more valuable the products which can be made from it. Longleafs reach marketable size more slowly than other pine species, but over time usually produce a more valuable class of products. Accordingly, landowners looking for a “quick” return from pulpwood on a 25 to 30 year rotation will select another species of pines. Growers of longleaf might sell young trees harvested during a thinning operation for pulpwood or chip-n-saw, but more likely will be looking to cut their trees when they have reached the more valuable sizes. At that point, they could bring a return three or four times as great.
In recent years, a minor market for pine straw has developed. Bales of it are sold for use as a mulch in landscaping. Some owners of longleaf pine plantations rake the fallen needles from under young trees.
While the use of longleaf pine as a building material continues today, some other past uses are now largely only of historical interest. As the first settlers of the New World, such as the Pilgrims, were mostly in the north, it wasn’t until the mid-1600s that English colonists began to exploit southern forests. At that time, in the age of sail, “naval stores” were quite important. Pitch was used for caulking wooden hulls and tar was used as a coating to prevent rot in the rigging. A pine species in the northeast came to be called pitch pine on account of its use in the production of these items, but the colonists in North and South Carolina soon found longleaf pines to be a more prolific source. By the early 1700s, naval stores were an important export and ultimately the Carolinas accounted for 95 percent of American production.
Tar is the crude liquid which drips from burned pine during slow combustion. By boiling or burning tar, it is condensed and partially carbonized into pitch. North Carolina is still known as the “Tar Heel State.” The origin of the name is uncertain, but probably reflects some facet of tar burning. Tar would likely accumulate in the dirt and ashes around a tar kiln and stick to workers’ feet.
With the coming of steam and iron hulls, the demand for pitch and tar decreased. But another industry involving longleafs continued well into the 20th Century, and to a very small degree, continues today. That is the tapping of pines for turpentine production. At the base of a large pine, the bark is stripped off and a clay container attached to catch the gummy fluid which drains out. This is later collected and distilled into the essential oil or spirits of turpentine and rosin. These products still have many uses, but are largely produced now in South America and China, rather than in the southeastern U.S.