The Perennial Forest A Visual Account of One Year in the Life of a Longleaf Pine Forest

A longleaf pine forest is constantly changing throughout the year. Depending on the season, you will see different shades of green and brown, a broad suite of plants in the groundcover, a wide array of wildflower colors, and sometimes charred earth from prescribed fires. This project documents changes and provides a visual diary of this stand in the longleaf forest throughout the year.


January is typically the coldest month of the year for most of the longleaf range. The perennial plants that make up the groundcover are dormant and are concentrating on root growth. This is the peak month for dormant season burns.


The dormant season continues in February. In the southern part of the longleaf range, groundcover species may start to show spring greening up. It is recommended that longleaf seedlings be planted before Christmas, but at the latest should be finishing up during this month.


In the majority of the longleaf range, March marks the beginning of spring. Longleaf pine trees start "candling" and plants start to put on new green growth. Early spring flowering can be seen for species like Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata) and Gopherweed (Baptisia lanceolata).

Birdfoot Violet (l) and Gopherweed (r)

By April the threat of frost has passed and plants in the longleaf forest are actively growing. This is a great time to explore the bogs and wet savannas that occur in longleaf habitats. Look for the unique carnivorous plants and orchids that grow in these sites as many of them will be blooming this month.

May Before Burn

In May, the growing season is in full swing. This is the peak month to apply growing season prescribed fire to longleaf habitat. Growing season fires encourage growth of native warm season grasses and promote flowering and seed set of species like wiregrass (Aristida stricta)

May During Burn

This prescribed fire was applied in mid-May. Notice the low flame heights. Because this site is regularly burned every 2-3 years, the prescribed fire is much more manageable than a site that is not regularly managed with fire.

May After Burn

This photo was taken 7 days after the prescribed burn. Some of the herbaceous groundcover species are already starting to push up new growth out of the ashes. These plants are all fire adapted species that respond positively to fire.


Comparing this image to the pre-burn image in May shows a distinct difference in the cover of woody shrubs and trees. The fire encourages the growth of grasses and other herbaceous plants and also creates patches of bare soil that are needed for seedling establishment.


The forest continues to rebound during July from the prescribed burn that was conducted in May. The bunch grasses have grown back, and along with other herbaceous forb species, are providing essential habitat for the wildlife species that call the longleaf forest home.


By August, the grasses and wildflowers have put on significant growth since the prescribed burn. Because of the growing season burn, the wiregrass has been stimulated to flower.


The yellow and white flowering members of the Sunflower family like Goldenrod and Thoroughworts are in full bloom in September. The native grasses continue to extend their flowering stems to the sky. September and October are many people's favorite time to take a hike in a longleaf forest.


Temperatures start to cool in October and many of the native grasses in the groundcover are in bloom. The wiregrass, bluestems, indian grasses, and other species in this site begin flowering in late September and continue through October.


November is native grass seed collection month in the longleaf forest. Landowners and managers use specialized seed collection equipment to strip seed off of the grass seed stalks. This collected seed can then be used to restore groundcover in other areas.


In December, the forest has once again entered the dormant season and the process of managing the forest starts anew.


Randy Tate