Before the European colonists arrived, longleaf pine trees formed the backbone of the ancient landscape spanning many acres throughout southeast Virginia.
Today, at Dendron Swamp Natural Area Preserve in Sussex County, the only pine stands that remain in the uplands are loblolly pine trees planted by timber companies for harvesting.
Under a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant awarded recently to Old Dominion University and other partners, DCR plans to expand its longleaf pine restoration efforts and reintroduce the native species to the 635-acre preserve.
The preserve, along the southern side of the Blackwater River’s western reach, was protected primarily for the bald cypress-tupelo swamps and other natural heritage resources in the bottomland forests.
But Rebecca Wilson, longleaf pine restoration specialist for the Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR, said, “The deep sandy soils of the uplands are well suited to longleaf pine restoration efforts. We’re excited for this opportunity to expand an ecosystem that once spanned over a million acres in southeast Virginia.”
Since 2008, thousands of acres at other natural area preserves including Chub Sandhill, also in Sussex County, have been restored to young longleaf pine communities.
At Dendron Swamp, restoration efforts will include establishing longleaf pine seedlings and conducting frequent, low-intensity prescribed burns. The seedlings will be propagated from cones collected from native old-growth longleaf trees, found at South Quay Sandhills Natural Area Preserve. These old-growth longleaf trees are part of the last remaining longleaf pine ecosystem found in Virginia.
Wilson said, “Bringing fire back to this landscape will not only benefit natural resources but will create a more resilient forest for the future. We don’t know what things will look like in the future, but we do know that longleaf was a significant player in the past. The restoration work we do today will resonate well into the future.”