Southern slash pine or South Florida slash pine is the symbol of South Florida

Southern slash pines were once the dominant tree of this area. It is now rarely seen in our communities. Imagine each yard with at least one of these trees growing in it. Our homes would be nestled into a restored habitat going back thousands of years.

Pines drop their needles constantly, providing free mulch. This can be mowed along with the grass to add organic matter to the soil or raked into pleasant shapes around the trees. Grass grows better near slash pine where the air is cooler and the sunlight is softer. Patches of pines can be connected with masses of saw palmetto, coontie, native grasses and native shrubs to create no mow areas that are rich in wildlife and birds.

Southern slash pines live for hundreds of years, are resistant to hurricanes, and provide food, nesting sites and cover for our birds. Migrating birds can safely move through the branches where hawks can’t easily catch them. The seeds are eaten by several kinds of birds and squirrels and the bark and dead wood contain many insects that feed our woodpeckers. Downy woodpeckers hollow out the ends of rotting branches to create their homes while the trunks of dead pines are used by larger woodpeckers to carve out their nest cavities.

If you can’t leave a dead tree near a building for fear of falling branches, try cutting it to a 10 to 20 foot stump. The hard core will keep it erect while the soft outer portion rots away. The woodpeckers will love you for it.

When selecting a slash pine, make sure that it was grown from local seed. The North Florida slash does poorly here. Water it for a few weeks to establish only. Slash pine will become weakened and die if watered regularly for long as they prefer dry soil. Irrigation weakened many trees which then died during the hurricanes. Try piling the needles around the trunk so you won’t need to come close with mowers or weedeaters.

Many birds join our local ones during migration for a burst of activity each morning. Warblers, hummingbirds, hawks, owls, cardinals, robins, cedar waxwings, osprey, woodpeckers, catbirds, blue jays and others decorate our pines like moving ornaments. The sounds of these birds fill the air at daybreak.

Try planting one slash pine where its needles can fall and stay. You may find yourself planting more as the years go by and you notice the increase in wildlife.