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At the Heart of Pine

Click to Enlarge ImageLongleaf pine forests are the most diverse ecosystem in North America, with 500 species per square kilometer. But many of us, myself included, have missed the forest for the trees: Although these forests are limited in tree diversity, they are exceptionally rich in plant and animal diversity. The number of species endemic to this system is astounding: Researchers counted 925 in one longleaf subtype alone. Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North America’s Richest Forest (University of North Carolina Press, $35), by Bill Finch, Beth Maynor Young, Rhett Johnson and John C. Hall, offers 11 essays on these forests, including numerous photographs that cultivate appreciation for the beauty of the tree itself; of the unique, pyrophytic species it supports; and of the breathtaking landscape it creates.

Longleaf pine savanna is one of the only ecosystems that is both forest and meadow. The book reveals this dynamic system in panoramic images of golden light filtering through trees and illuminating long grasses beneath. And there’s no shortage of close-ups. Shown at right is a longleaf seed germinating at the Solon Dixon Forestry Center in Andalusia, Alabama.

Longleaf was once so common that it was hardly remarked upon, and ecologists are only now beginning to understand the forest that once covered 90 million acres of North America and now covers 3 million. The final sections of the book detail potential restoration solutions for the longleaf that remains, including fire management and profitable investment strategies. Longleaf is not a story of loss, but one of deep reverence for the grandeur and mystery of these regions.

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