Historical Habitats, Drought, and a Lost Pine

July 1915. Construction began of an electric sawmill at D'Lo in Simpson County, MS. The next year, it became active, and the workers had no idea what ripple effects the taking out of those trees would do to the ecosystem in this county.

The Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company was established to harvest and market southern Mississippi's virgin longleaf pine (Pinus palustris L.) stands during the early 20th century. The main sawmills were located in Wiggins and D'Lo, Mississippi. In July 1915, the Finkbine Lumber Company began construction at D'Lo, Simpson County, of an all-electric sawmill containing two band saws, a gang saw and a resaw. When operations began in July 1916, this mill had a cutting capacity of 200,000 feet in 10 hours. The timber supply extended over parts of Simpson, Rankin, Smith and Scott counties, running east from D'Lo for about 50 miles. About August 1927 the supply of pine was cut out, after which the mill switched to cutting redwood shipped from the Finkbine-Guild mill in California through the Panama Canal to Gulfport.

The D'Lo mill cut out for good in August 1929, but it's effects have lasted until the modern day. Today, no one knows about Longleaf Pine in this county. It's virtually unheard of, despite it being ground zero for the destruction of an ecosystem that covered the majority of it.

There are only two known historical records of Longleaf Pine in Simpson County, both from the same locality in 1964. Here is one of them: https://sernecportal.org/portal/collections/individual/index.php?occid=5868934

I have been searching for a while to try and find any evidence that Longleaf Pine still exists in the county, and earlier this year, I found one. One of the observations linked is that individual. Now, you may expect that I found this individual far away from where all the logging took place, maybe out in the middle of a grown up forest, forgotten about.. but no. I found this individual, in D'Lo, only a few miles from where the very mill that took out all of the virgin stands would have been, on the side of the road, no less. I collected some cones, and in the cones I found seed, although all of them had holes in them as they were last years. I hope to collect more from this year, perhaps, and try and sprout them, or send them somewhere where their genetics will be preserved. As far as I know, this individual tree(and whatever tree pollinated it) are the only remaining Pinus palustris in the county.

This brings me to something different. "The Ridge" as I call it, situated on the line between Simpson and Smith counties, where my grandma's is, I have been trying to figure out what habitat would have existed on the ridge historically. I have been collecting observations of every species I have seen there and compiling a list of species that I deem "Indicator Species" for what I believe the habitat used to be, species that I believe used to occur on the ridge before European influence.

I believe that the habitat here used to consist of a mixed Quercus stellata, Pinus palustris savannah, surrounded by a wet savannah that made way for bottomland hardwood forest and swamp. The species I have compiled, in my opinion, seem to suggest so.

The list so far:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=Safron%20Historical%20Habitat%20Indicator&search_on=tags&view=species

I am working on creating a map of the area separated by what habitat used to occur there based on what species I find that are extant there, as well as a spreadsheet of the species still extant and where they occur.

One-half of the ridge is now cow pasture, as well as most of the seepages coming out of the ridge. The other half is not really managed, but looks desperately like it needs a burn. Post oaks are still extant on the property, although in very low numbers, and all of them are seemingly fairly old individuals. I have never found a sapling, and the ones that still exist are along the road coming into the property and around the cemetery(the highest elevation place, which has its own interesting oral history I may go over at a later date).

You may be wondering, well, "where are the longleaf pines?" And I have been wondering that too, until earlier this year, when I found a photo from 1978 of a member of my family with a tractor, and in the foreground, you can see a Pinus sp, with suspiciously long needles. It's only one photo, but two members of my family both verified that it was taken in the bottom field(likely an area now converted to a loblolly stand). This is the only evidence aside from my grandparents cabin being made from a dense pine(i suspect longleaf) that I have of it being on the ridge.

...Well, that isn't entirely true

Remember the Finkbine Mill that started this journal post? Well, there is still a map of the rail lines and where they went throughout the county. Turns out, one of their rails, going past the logging camp called Cohay II, went directly behind The Ridge, and my grandma says that my great grandfather would actually work around what would become the bottom field with "a company" to harvest "some really big pine trees". This map, and the oral evidence, as well as the photo of seemingly a P. palustris surviving until at least 1978 on the property, proves that P. palustris used to occur here in decent numbers, at least in the wetter bottom field.

Recently I visited The Ridge while home for fall break, and I wanted to document how plant species were affected during this past drought. On the ridge it lasted longer than the surrounding area, since this is one of the highest elevation places in the county. It did not rain for 3 months straight. While there I noticed several common species that were absent, stressed, or dried. Almost all of these were species that required a decent amount of water(American Pokeweed, Ilex opaca, Quercus nigra, etc). I also noted several drought tolerant and savannah-esque species that I have never seen on the property before, such as hundreds of Agalinis fasciculata, several dozen Little Bluestem, Trichostema, Cyperus retrorsus and a first for the property- Helianthus angustifolius as well as a notable sedge: Fuirena squarrosa

There was also a fire on the other side of the ridge, that never actually made it up any of the hills, but it will be interesting to document what appears next year. I hope to talk with at least one of the landowners on the property to figure out if there is a way to try and restore some of the area back to what it was before- assuming I am on the right track with all of this.

This has been a lot longer than I was expecting, and I still have a lot to say about it, but I will leave with this:

Longleaf Pine, lost, found, lost, unknown.
Discovery, documentation, representation.
An ecosystem forgotten, what is there to know?
Will there be a future restoration?
No one can possibly know, verge of extirpation.

Posted on October 17, 2023 02:05 AM by safron safron

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)

Observer

safron

Description

Hard to tell on the photo but I'm fairly sure with those long needles its P. palustris. My grandma and mom both independently verified that this photo was taken in the lower field.

I have been trying to find evidence that the ridge here was historically a mixed Post Oak-Longleaf pine savannah type ecosystem, surrounded by bottomland hardwood wetland type habitat. With the finding of more old post oaks on the ridge, and several savannah-specific and even a few species that heavily benefit from fire, I am getting more confident in this historical identification of the ecosystem. Pinus palustris may be extirpated here, or maybe I am just waiting to find that lost individual. the area this was in was converted to a loblolly stand around the mid 80s, unfortunately(you can see it still there on the map) so I doubt that this specific individual still exists.

Will make a journal post soon.

Photos / Sounds

What

Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)

Observer

safron

Date

June 2023

Description

First record of Longleaf Pine in Simpson Co since this record in 1964: https://sernecportal.org/portal/collections/individual/index.php?occid=5868934

The Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company was established to harvest and market the virgin longleaf pine (Pinus palustris L.) stands of southern Mississippi during the early 20th century. The main sawmills were located in Wiggins and D'Lo, Mississippi. In July 1915, the Finkbine Lumber Company began construction at D'Lo, Simpson County, of an all electric sawmill containing two band saws, a gang saw and a resaw. When operations began in July 1916, this mill had a cutting capacity of 200,000 feet in 10 hours. The timber supply extended over parts of Simpson, Rankin, Smith and Scott counties, running east from D'Lo for about 50 miles. About August 1927 the supply of pine was cut out, after which the mill switched to cutting redwood shipped from the Finkbine-Guild mill in California through the Panama Canal to Gulfport.

The D'Lo mill cut out for good in August 1929, and the Longleaf Pine-the dominant tree in the county that provided shelter for thousands of species, started to be forgotten. A lost relic of an ecosystem once prominent, This tree is a survivor, likely being a descendant of those first trees that were cut.

Comments

You've done a lot of work figuring this out. It's fun putting the puzzle pieces together. I hope you can eventually restore The Ridge to something like its former glory!

Posted by piedmontplants 8 months ago

Great post and great work. Look forward to seeing how this progresses.

Posted by natev 8 months ago

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