Last updated: August 14, 2018
Prior to the 1700’s, vast pine forests stretched along the coastal plain from Southern Virginia to Eastern Texas, covering nine states and roughly 92 million acres. The These forests consisted of old growth longleaf pine trees that stood up to 175 feet tall, were 4 feet in diameter, and took hundreds of years to mature. Only 4.3 million acres of this vast longleaf pine reserve remains due to deforestation and over-harvesting since colonial times. Much of the surviving forest also consists of smaller trees and areas that are in less than optimal health. This has led to strict regulations and efforts by environmental organizations to preserve and regrow the existing population. Reclaiming first growth longleaf pine lumber is one way to aid the process of restoring the once great expanse of forest.
Longleaf pine are the main source of heart-pine lumber, the nonliving center of the trees. Also known as southern yellow heart pine, heart-pine has a beautiful golden red patina, making it great for exposed applications like flooring, timber framing, cabinets, and furniture. It is also preferred for its tight growth ring patterns which give it hardness and strength for load-bearing applications such as timber-framing, bridges, and wharves. Longleaf heart-pine contains the most resin of all pine varieties, which in turn makes it the hardest, densest, and strongest. Most early homes in the South, including George Washington's Mount Vernon residence, used longleaf heart-pine for all types of wood building projects. For this reason, it is highly desirable for antique colonial style restorations.
It takes roughly 200 years for the trees to become mostly heartwood versus sapwood. The older the tree, the more usable heartwood it will be composed of. Since most of the pine trees harvested today are younger, they contain a much smaller percentage of heartwood that is usable for lumber purposes. This makes using reclaimed heart-pine a popular choice for projects requiring large dimensions.
Because of the tremendous structural strength of heart pine, it was used extensively in large construction projects. From the massive industrial buildings in Chicago and Boston to the textile mills throughout the South, heart pine played a key role in construction the Industrial Revolution. Today, we are left with the legacy of old growth heart pine heavy timbers and dimensional lumber that finds new life in present day architecture.