The Pinelands, a Battle of Succession: Oak vs. Pine

The succession of the Pine Barrens. Illustration courtesy of Amanda Branum

The succession of the Pine Barrens. Illustration courtesy of Amanda Branum

The recent fires that swept across 1,000+ acres of forest in NJ's Pinelands mark a victory for the Pines in an ongoing battle for domination. In the typical forest play-out, quick growing pines initially dominate until slow growing oaks catch up and both out shadow and outlive the pines. So goes the natural order of succession. However, tens of thousands of years of habitual abuse in the form of fire, low-nutrient and sandy soils have positioned Pines for the win.

The top contender, Pinus rigida or Pitch pine, has adapted not only a resistance to fire but a dependence. Protected by an armor of thick bark, pitch pine survives high heat forest fires. As flame temperatures rise, and only then, resin sealing the cone shut begins to melt away releasing seed to a landscape now devoid of competition. The remnants of oak, mere ashes, are cycled back into the soil, further fueling the Pines reign. 

Fire suppression, a result of current land management practices, has resulted in the decline of many specialized species found only in the Pine Barrens. Amongst these are rare orchids, unique carnivorous bog plants, as well as many wildflowers & their pollinators. 

Follow the links below to learn more about the wonders that lie within the 1.1 million acre expanse that makes up the Pinelands National Reserve.

http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/ecology/fire/

The Pine Barrens film: http://www.pinebarrensfilm.com/video/

http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/history/devil/