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Names for Longleafs

Longleaf pines have been known by a variety of names, mostly descriptive.  There may be as many as 30 different common names.  The scientific name, Pinus palustris, is a Latin binomial, and it also has been subject to change, or at least controversy.

Common Names

These are the everyday names given by people to plants they encounter in their daily lives.  There are no set rules governing their use, and a single species may have many common names, varying from place to place.  Common names can be descriptive of plant features, colors, uses, or place of origin.

Longleaf pine--the most widely used and generally accepted name, it refers to the fascicle of three needles which can be as long as 18 inches, much longer than those of any other pine species in North America.

Yellow pine--refers to the yellow resinous heartwood; more of a generic name, often applied to several southern pine species.

Georgia pine--referring to the former extensive occurrence in much of the state; sometimes also called Florida pine, Virginia pine, Texas yellow pine, or southern pine.

Turpentine pine--named for one of the tree’s uses; many trees were tapped in the late 1800’s.

Hill pine--refers to the upland sites where this tree was formerly widespread across the southeastern coastal plain.

Other names used over the years have included hard pine, heart pine, pitch pine, fat pine, long-straw pine, pine-broom, and white rosin-tree.

Scientific names

All creatures known to science -- those alive today and those which have been extinct for millions of years -- are given a scientific name consisting of a Latin binomial, i.e. two words which may actually be from Latin (or Greek), or are at least spelled in such a manner so as to appear to be Latin.  The first name is that of the genus, a classification into which are placed all of the similar members of a plant or animal family.  All pine tress are placed in the genus Pinus which is the Latin name for a pine tree.  This genus has about 100 species distributed throughout the world.  The second name, the specific epithet, distinguishes a species from all other members of the genus.  Longleaf pines have been known by three (or four) scientific names or synonyms.

Pinus palustris--this is the scientific name almost universally used today for longleaf pine, but it is not without some minor controversy.  Palustris is a Latin word meaning marshy or swampy.  It derives from another Latin word, palus, which means a lowland seasonally covered with water or a shallow sea.  Ancient writers may have referred to Palus Maeotis and Palus Tattaeus, the former names for, respectively, the Russian Sea of Aozv and Tuz Lake in Turkey.  The name Pinus palustris was first used in 1768 by Phillip Miller, the superintendent of Chelsea Physic Garden near London, founded in 1673 for the study and cultivation of rare plants and herbs.  Miller was also the author of a series of then widely used horticultural dictionaries.  It was in the eighth edition of his The Gardeners Dictionary that he described a pine tree from America with “leaves a foot or more in length, growing in tufts at the end of the branches.”  His brief description contained some other particulars regarding height and growth characteristics which do not fit well with longleaf, and some later authors feel he might have been describing some other species or perhaps several different species.  At any rate, he applied the name palustris because his information was that the tree was found in “swamps in many parts of North America.”  The controversy arises because although longleafs are found in wet flatwoods, even more extensive stands are found in drier habitats, and so his name is somewhat inappropriate.

Pinus australis--the name sometimes suggested as a better alternative was apparently first used in 1810 by Francois Andre Michaux, the son of the better-known botanist Andre Michaux.  Australis is Latin for southern and derives from the Roman name given the south wind, auster.  Certainly the name fits longleaf pine as well as palustris and is quite appropriate if by “southern” one means the American southeast.  But the main argument made by those advocating discarding the name palustris and substituting australis appears to be that Miller’s description was confused and ambiguous, while Michaux was the first to really describe the longleaf pine as a new species.  Under the rules scientists use for naming, however, there would be some problems in changing the name, and since palustris is widely used, it is likely to remain the accepted name.

Pinus longifolia--a name proposed by R. A. Salisbury in 1796 combines two Latin words, longus or long and folium, which is a leaf.  Obviously, this is a very fitting name and a literal translation of our English name.  Once again, the naming rules would prohibit the use of this name, apt though it may be.

Pinus lutea--is another name which literally translates one of the English common names, yellow pine, as lutea is Latin for yellow.  The name may have been briefly considered by some early botanists, but was not widely used.

Pinus extraordinarius--a name used, tongue in cheek, by Laurence C. Walker in his book Forests: A Naturalist’s Guide to Woodland Trees in discussing the many outstanding timber qualities and commercial values of longleaf pines.




Copyright 2010.