Scrubby Pine Trees

Rooftree

Explorer
Mar 24, 2017
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Yesterday, I drove out to Warren Grove to roam the Pygmy Pine Plains on the west side of RT 539. I first stopped at an area called the Little Plains just north of Beaver Dam Road, and then traveled south to Bombing Range Road to an area called the East Plains. These are two areas among others in the Pine Barrens where you find stunted, twisted Pitch Pine Trees only 4 to 6 feet high. Whereas in other parts of the Pine Barrens they are found 20 to 80 feet tall.

There's been many theories why these dwarf pitch pine trees exist in this area. It can be due to droughty, nutrient poor soils, being in a higher elevation subject to strong winds, but probably most important, for centuries these plains have been exposed to historically frequent wildfires causing suppressed growth. In addition, these fires are generally larger because they are unimpeded by streams. However, in more recent years with improved wildfire suppression techniques, these dwarf trees are growing taller in some areas. With all said, fire is an important process in the NJ Pine Plains.

Below are a few photos from the day.

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Bombing Range Road
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Watering Place Pond (Governors Pond)
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Serotinous Cones on a Pitch Pine (fire is needed for them to open)
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NJ Pine Barrens' Lonesome Pine
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manumuskin

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There is a lonesome pine on Spring Hill.It is the only normal sized tree anywhere in the area. Me and Whpoorbill used to climb it for views.He even accidentally broke a limb off it once because He didn't know to keep his big clumsy feet close to the trunk.The tree did not die but now is quite a large tree.He broke the limb back in the late 80's.What causes the Plains to begin with? But also what can cause one tree in a thousand acres to grow to normal size when none of the others will?
 

manumuskin

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Well your post seven pretty much pin points why the Plains exist but why a single normal sized tree here and there? Is it that the scrub trees underground portions are much older even though the above ground portions are not and that they have lost the ability to throw up a good trunk but then occasionally you will have a tree that sprouts from seed that will get big enough fast enough and be lucky enough to survive and become a large tree because it was able to produce a sound trunk that did not get damaged by a hot ground fire?
 

Rooftree

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Mar 24, 2017
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That photo of the "Lonesome Pine" was taken in the Little Plains. It wasn't too lonesome. Others were spotted here and there. Right behind me where I took the photo of the two pine trees below, is a ridge with a grove of tall trees. Also in these one area, there were more new growth trees then stunted trees that survive a fire as I could from the road. In addition, these photos were taken on a side road from the main N/S road. Going N on that road, the left side was all stunted, twisted pines, and the right side was mainly all new growth.

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Rooftree

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Al; here's my take on why some much taller trees are found in the pygmy pine plains. (Some of this info came from the attached article.) It took many centuries of frequents fires to establish these stunted pitch pine trees in the pine plains. Ground fires in the Barrens become crown fires in the plains. 95% of the trees in the plains are sprouts that originate from root collars after fire has killed the crown portion of these trees. Sprouts could not produce straight fast-growing trees. Subject to wind exposure, these trees counted for their prostrate nature. However, there is a chance that some of these trees escape the fires that killed the crown, and had the ability to survive. So these trees had fire damage the same as taller trees in the Barrens over time.

Again, just my take for what it is worth.

The attachment below is a very good article on the Pine Plains, "The Evolution of the New Jersey Pine Plains - American Journal of Botany"

https://bsapubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.3732/ajb.1200581

If this link didn't work, you need to do 'google' Pygmy Pine Plains, but chose the hit that has the PDF

Ron
 
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bobpbx

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I like this from "The Evolution of the New Jersey Pine Plains - American Journal of Botany" F. THOMAS LEDIG 2,5 , JOHN L. HOM3 , AND PETER E. SMOUSE4"

"Given the several characteristics that distinguish the little trees of the New Jersey Pine Plains and their progeny—small stature, crooked form, precocity, fecundity, serotinous cones, and stem cones—they may deserve recognition as a taxonomic form. If so, we propose variety littleii . The name would honor the late Silas Little, the ecologist most intimately familiar with the New Jersey Pine Barrens; he lived in the Pine Barrens and studied the Pine Plains throughout his career. The name is also appropriate because it suggests the stature of the Pine Plains form."

Pinus ridiga, var. littleii.

I like that!
 
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Rooftree

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Bob. I thought, maybe, being a kid in Presidential Lakes, you hiked over to where Silas worked, hanging around being a nuisance asking so many questions. That's where you got your start in the area you enjoy so much.

Yes, that is a nice cover, very basic. I'll have to read the two articles you had posted.