Pines of Florida

Pines of Florida

Small pine tree with long needles

Young Longleaf Pine

All of Florida’s ecosystems contain pine trees. There are seven native species in the state; Sand, Slash, Spruce, Shortleaf, Loblolly, Longleaf, and Pond. Each species grows best in its particular environment. Pines are highly important to wildlife habitats as food and shelter. Several species are equally valuable to Florida’s economy. Slash, Loblolly, and Longleaf are cultivated and managed to provide useful products such as paper, industrial chemicals, and lumber. All pines are evergreens, meaning they keep foliage year-round. The leaves emerge from the axil of each scale leaf into long slender needles clustered together in bundles. Needles are produced at the growing tips of each branch and remain on the tree for several years before turning reddish-brown and falling off. The bundles are referred to as “fascicles”. The length and number of needles in each fascicle is one way to help identify the different pine species.

A handy rule of thumb is that pines starting with “S” have needles in twos, while pines starting with “L” have needles in threes. And slash pine, which starts with “SL” has needles in twos and threes. The pond pine is also a three-needled fascicle. Pay attention to their length and the number that are held in a fascicle. Because the numbers per fascicle may vary, be sure to check several fascicles to get an overall sense for the plant! Longleaf has the longest needle, measuring over 10 inches. While sand pine has the shortest needles at around 2 inches in length. Pine cones are also a means for identification. Typically the longer the needle, the bigger the cone. But, they also vary in attachment and “spinyness’.

Pine cone attached to stem of pine tree

Cone of Loblolly Pine, attached directly to the stem

The outer (dorsal) surface of each seed cone scale has a diamond-shaped bulge, or “umbo,” formed by the first year’s growth. The umbo may or may not be armored with a “prickle,” a sharp point but not quite a spine or thorn, at the tip. As the seed cone continues to grow and expand, the exposed area at the end of each scale grows as well. The larger diamond-shaped area around the umbo, formed in the second year of growth, is called the “apophysis.” The shapes of the prickle, umbo, and apophysis can be helpful in identification. The male and female cones are separate structures, but both are present on the same plant. Pollen is produced by male cones and is carried by the wind to female cones where it fertilizes the ovules. Seeds develop and mature inside the female cones (also called the seed cones) for two years, protected by a series of tightly overlapping woody scales. Some pines open their seed cones after two years to release the seeds, while other pines continue to keep their cones tightly closed past maturity and release seeds in response to the heat of a forest fire.

To learn more about Florida’s pines and helpful hint on identification go to:

Control Burning Newly Planted Longleaf Pines and Saplings

Control Burning Newly Planted Longleaf Pines and Saplings


Controlling competing vegetation and brown spot disease are two main reasons we prescribe burn young longleaf plantations:

  1. Longleaf pine seedlings do not like competing vegetation and will stay in the grass stage for years if vegetation is not controlled by fire, mowing or herbicides. Using improved containerized seedlings along with good vegetation management can release longleaf pines from the grass stage in 2-3 years.
  2. Longleaf pines are the only species of southern pines susceptible to brown spot needle blight. Seedlings are infected in the grass stage and can die from the disease. Prescribe burning is an effective method for controlling this fungus disease. Burning removes the infected needles and kills the spores. Brown spot can be identified by yellow bands on the needles, which eventually turn brown as shown below.

December thru March is the typical burn window for this activity. Older longleaf pine stands can be burned into late spring with the right weather conditions and understory. If turkey management is important to you, wait until nesting season is over to burn mature longleaf stands. We get better control of understory brush and hardwoods burning in the spring.

The link shown here shows an example of a control burn in 5 year old longleaf pine that is in the sampling stage. Good forest management practices have got these pines off to a good start. The key is not to damage the bud in the tip of pines or the newly formed candles in the spring.

*Make sure and get a burn permit from the local state forestry service before you light your fire.


“Timing of Prescribed Fire in Longleaf Pine”

“Prescribed Burning in Newly Planted Longleaf Pine.” (Alabama Guide Sheet No. AL 338 A)

NISAW 2016 – Air Potato Leaf Beetle, a Biological Control for Air Potato

NISAW 2016 – Air Potato Leaf Beetle, a Biological Control for Air Potato

Air potato vine. Photo by Scott Jackson

Air potato vine. Photo by Scott Jackson

Air potato (Dioscores bulbifera) is a perennial, herbaceous self-twining vine that can grow over 60 feet in length, enabling it to climb over and smother many native plants. The Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council (FLEPPC) lists air potato as a Category 1 invasive plant, which means that it has disrupted natural communities and ecological functions by displacing native plant species.


In 2012, a leaf feeding beetle (Lilioceris cheni) was introduced into South Florida from China for biological control of air potato. Although it is too early to determine any potential long-term impacts, the initial results have been promising. The larvae and adults of the air potato leaf beetle feed on the leaf tissue and occasionally the bulbils. The damage to the growing tips of the plant have dramatically reduced its ability to cover native vegetation. Extensive damage to air potato was evident within three months after the first release. Additionally, testing by scientists at the USDA/ARS Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale concluded that the beetle will not complete development on any other plant found in Florida.

Air potato beetle up close. Photo by Julie McConnell

Air potato beetle up close. Photo by Julie McConnell


The female air potato leaf beetle lays an average of 1,200 eggs, which develop into larvae in about four days. The young beetles skeletonize the air potato leaves for the next eight days and then pupate into foam-like cocoons. Clumps of cocoons fall to the ground and the adult beetles emerge 13 to 16 days later. There can be a new generation of air potato leaf beetle every month while the weather is warm. For the winter, the adults hide in leaf litter and wait for spring.


The question now is: “How well will they survive through a longer, colder Northwest Florida winter?”. USDA scientists, UF Extension agents and citizen scientists in Bay and Okaloosa County hope to find out. Earlier this month, June 2015, air potato leaf beetles from the Hayslip Biological Control and Research and Containment Laboratory in Ft. Pierce were released into areas containing air potato. They will be monitored over the next year. Look for an update this coming summer.


NISAW 2016 – Climbing Ferns

NISAW 2016 – Climbing Ferns


Japanese Climbing Fern can quickly cover natural vegetation. Spores and small plants can be potentially transported in pine straw. Climbing ferns are a problem for managed timber and home landscapes. Photo by L. Scott Jackson

Japanese Climbing Fern can quickly cover natural vegetation. Spores and small plants can be potentially transported in pine straw. Climbing ferns are a problem for managed timber and home landscapes. Photo by L. Scott Jackson

Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum) and Old World Climbing Fern (Lygodium microphyllum) are presently the only non-native invasive ferns in Florida.

Both ferns reproduce and spread readily by wind-blown spores. Animals, equipment, and even people that move through an area with climbing ferns are very likely to pick up spores and move them to other locations on the property or even to other properties.

Japanese climbing fern is a delicate looking perennial climbing vine. It is capable of forming a dense mat-like thatch capable of covering trees and shrubs. Initially, it was introduced from Japan as an ornamental. It is scattered throughout the lower portions of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and south into central Florida. Further planting or cultivation of this vine is prohibited by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.


Old World climbing fern has been a problem for many years in central and south Florida but it is currently moving north. The northern edge of its advance is now just south of Marion County.

Adequate control of both climbing ferns has been achieved with multiple applications of glyphosate. Other herbicides have also been used to control Japanese climbing fern.

As with most invasive plants, repeated and correctly timed treatments are likely to be necessary.

For more information about climbing ferns contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office and read the following publication:


Florida’s Rangeland Agriculture and the Environment: A Natural Partnership

Woodlands and rangelands are important to both our economy and environment.  Photo by Judy Ludlow

Woodlands and rangelands are important to both our economy and environment. Photo by Judy Ludlow

Most of us living in panhandle Florida recognize that our farmers and ranchers are committed to sustainable production of food, fiber, and fuel for generations to come, but how will farmers continue to be productive while sharing natural resources with an ever growing population and an intricate environment? How will Florida’s agricultural lands, rangelands, and woodlands continue to contribute to the quality of our environment and to our economy?

Florida Rangelands:
According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service “Range and pasture lands are diverse types of land where the primary vegetation produced is herbaceous plants and shrubs. These lands provide forage for beef cattle….and other types of domestic livestock. Also many species of wildlife…depend on these lands for food and cover.”  Florida’s rangelands and woodlands are a significant component of Florida’s agricultural industry.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture there were:

  • 3,749,647 acres of permanent pasture and rangeland in Florida
  • 1,368,171 acres of pastured woodland in Florida

Benefits of Rangelands:
Florida’s 5.1 million acres of agricultural rangelands and woodlands not only support the economy, but abundant wildlife too. These well managed lands are living systems sustaining livestock, wildlife, and healthy soils. Benefits of these lands include important economic and ecological services like reducing our carbon footprint, increasing water conservation, providing forage for livestock, habitat for wildlife and game, preservation of cultural heritage, and sustainable timber. Additionally, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing is a multi-billion dollar industry within which Florida’s rangelands play a significant role. Florida’s rangelands are also important for the continued survival of many threatened species like the Crested Caracara, Snail Kite, Gopher Tortoise, Florida Scrub-Jay, Eastern Indigo Snake, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, and Sandhill Cranes.

gopher tort by chuck bargeron uga

Gopher Tortoise. Photo by Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgia,

Sandhill Cranes in a North Florida pasture. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

Sandhill Cranes in a North Florida pasture. UF/IFAS Photo by Josh Wickham.










Challenges to Florida’s Rangelands:
Threats to Florida rangelands include conversion into urban areas and fragmentation of large tracts of lands causing disconnection from other farmlands and natural areas. Contiguous, connected “wildlife corridors,” are important for many species of wildlife. Additionally, the establishment of non-native, invasive animals and plants; and alterations of natural and necessary processes such as fire, floods, and droughts, can disrupt the full economic and environmental potential of these lands.

Agricultural Best Management Practices and Education:
Today’s farmers use best management practices (BMPs) relying on up-to-date technologies and research to protect Florida’s unique natural resources, especially our precious water, while at the same time maximizing their production. BMPs are based on University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) research and are practical, cost-effective actions that agricultural producers can take to conserve water and reduce the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste, and other pollutants entering our water supply. They are designed to benefit water quality and water conservation while maintaining or even enhancing agricultural production. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, for example, agricultural producers save 11 billion gallons of water each year by their conservation practices.

Many of Florida’s rangeland and woodland owners also take advantage of educational programs available to them such as the UF/IFAS Forest Stewardship Program. The mission of this multi-agency program is to help and encourage private landowners to manage their lands for long-term environmental, economic, and social benefits. According to their annual report: “In 2014 the Program reached 503 landowners and professionals directly with workshops and field tours. These landowners and professionals collectively own and/or manage over 2 million acres across Florida.”

Summary and Additional Resources:
Florida’s agriculture producers are deeply committed to being stewards of their lands and our surrounding environment. Their adoption and support of best management practices as well as continuing education is critical for sustainable production and also for feeding the world of the future.

For more information on this topic please see the following resources:

UF/IFAS Forest Stewardship Program

UF/IFAS Extension – Range Cattle Research and Education Center

UF/IFAS Extension – Best Management Practices

Florida Farm Bureau’s County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship Program (This Farm CARES)

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Best Management Practices

The Nature Conservancy – Florida Ranchlands

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – Grasslands and Rangelands

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service


Invasive Species of the Day: Cogongrass and	Tawny Crazy Ant

Invasive Species of the Day: Cogongrass and Tawny Crazy Ant


Cogongrass (Imperata Cylindrica):

Cogongrass Photo Credit: Chris Evans, Illionois Wildlife Action Plan,

Cogongrass Photo Credit: Chris Evans, Illionois Wildlife Action Plan,

Cogongrass is one of the 10 worst weeds in the world.  This grass is an aggressive grower and forms colonies causing loss of productive forest areas, severe degradation of habitat, and economic issues.  Since its introduction in the 1900s, Cogongrass has spread to most of the counties in Florida.  Reproduction occurs through seed production and the creeping rhizome system.  This plant is prolific once established with the creation of a very dense rhizome system that retains water and releasing of allelopathic chemicals reducing competition from other plants.

Cogongrass is yellow/green in color with an off-set midrib and a fluffy white seed head. Cogongrass is drought and shade tolerant. Once this grass invades, it will quickly displace the native species and requires frequent and intensive controls.

Early detection is best since a small infestation is easier and cheaper to treat. The larger infestations become more time intensive, expensive, and difficult. There are treatment options for these infestations, make sure that specific instructions are followed and treatment is repeated.

For more information on the biology of this plant and various treatment options visit Also, by contacting your local UF/IFAS Extension office for assistance and information.


Cogongrass is a fire-adapted species, thriving where fire is a regular occurrence. In fact, the threat of wildfires greatly increases with the presence of cogongrass, a non-native invasive species. Cogongrass fires burn hotter and faster than native grass fires. This footage, shot in Baldwin County, Alabama, demonstrates how destructive a cogongrass fire can be to native vegetation.

Tawny Crazy Ant (Nylanderia  fulva):

Cleaning up large piles of dead ants are a daily cleanup chore for this homeowner. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Extension Okeechobee County

Cleaning up large piles of dead ants are a daily cleanup chore for this homeowner. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Extension Okeechobee County

Nylanderia fulva is part of the group of ants called “crazy ants” due to their erratic and quick movements.  These ants are medium to small and goldish brown to reddish brown in color.  The Tawny Crazy Ants nest in large numbers in leaf litter, soil, rotten logs, under potted plants and along underground electrical conduits.

Nylanderia fulva is a nuisance to humans.  They infest gardens, sidewalks and other areas of human traffic.  They cause damage to electrical lines.  They also displace other native ant species due to their large colony size.

This ant, Nylanderia fulva, has been confused with several other ants such as the Nylanderia pubens and Nylanderia guatemalensis.

Controlling the bug population in your garden and around your home will help decrease the likelihood of Tawny Crazy Ants invading.  Avoid transporting plant material, mulches and such to uninfested areas.  Granular baits can be used to control smaller populations but large populations will probably need a professional pest control service.

The Tawny Crazy Ant was a Featured Creature by UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology.  Also, the UF/IFAS School IPM has some good information about controlling Tawny Crazy Ant.

Download a Coloring and Activity Book at

Download a Coloring and Activity Book at

For more information, contact the author Jennifer Bearden, UF/IFAS Extension Okaloosa County Agriculture Agent 850-689-5850