Pinus palustris

When the quarantine is lifted, I’ll take off the mask and reveal my clandestine mustache and goatee.

It sure is interesting, getting old, because I keep learning of ways in which I’m connected to others. A case in point is my discovery that my dear old friend Spike, whom I met when we’d both matriculated at Texas Tech in 1959 and were residing in Sneed Hall, was now living near Plano and had developed a passion for the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris. I also have an interest, if not a passion, for this handsome tree.

My interest goes back to my childhood when, in the late forties or early fifties, my mother took me with her from her mother’s home in Garrison, north of Nacogdoches, to visit friends fifty miles south in Lufkin who had a specimen in their yard. My mother couldn’t keep her hands off it, running her fingers through the foot-long needles as if she were stroking a cat.

This made a profound impression on me, and she went on to deplore the fact that these trees would not grow in Garrison. People there had tried, only to have the tree grow vigorously for several years until there came a once-in-ten-or-twenty-years hard freeze sufficient to kill it. I didn’t think about those trees for seventy years until Spike emailed me he’d planted some.

What! Doesn’t he know they won’t survive that far north? I delicately inquired and was reassured that yes, he knew he was out of their traditional range but figured he’d take a chance. Here they are, freshly planted.

Never willing to leave good enough alone, I couldn’t resist digging around on the Internet, and what I found caused me to question what Mother had told me. It was an article about Greg Grant, a most extraordinary gentleman who now lives in Arcadia, TX, pop. 20 and has, among many other things, planted a stand of longleaf pines. Click on that link and scroll down to see early and late photos of some he planted a number of years ago.

What this tells us is that my mother must have got it wrong about their not surviving because Arcadia is on Texas Farm to Market Road 1645 immediately above its intersection with FTM 138 halfway between Garrison and Center. During the years when I was spending a lot of time in the area helping Mother in her decline, I traveled on FTM 138 between Garrison and Center on numerous occasions and thus passed a stone’s throw from Arcadia. Not that I could have seen Mr. Grant’s longleafs since my last visit to the area was in 2001, when the trees would have been mere seedlings at most. But still, since they survived this long it’s clear they’re not being frozen.

Oh, but wait. Maybe Mother wasn’t wrong about their being frozen. After all, it was sixty years ago that she was telling me this; and the deaths she reported would have taken place decades earlier when winter temperatures in the area might have been considerably colder. Moreover, a close examination of maps depicting their range puts the northern extent of it in the county just to the south of my mother’s, which is where that tree she fondled was.

Not, of course, that freezing is the only peril they face. Spike is perhaps the most cautious man I know. He’d done his homework, and one of the things he found was that longleaf pine seedlings are considered a great delicacy by the feral pigs that abound in his area. You can’t see it in his photo, but before he planted them he surrounded the area with an electric fence. I suggested 240 AC so he could hear ’em sizzle, but he’s going with lower voltages for now.

Somehow I take great delight in discovering that the range of the longleaf pine has been extended considerably northwards by an old friend from west Texas even though he shot down my suggestion that he go with 240AC and also that he trade in his battered pickup for a Tesla Cybertruck, which would also serve to run down the pigs.

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