For many years, I have heard that our native Slash Pine was really abundant in the eastern section of the county. It would be hard to believe that fact, given what we see today. Even Pinecrest has fewer pine trees than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Why did the pines disappear? There are several reasons pine trees disappeared in our area, most of which have to do with us, not a beetle or a disease.
A pine tree forest or pine rockland is one of the most delicate and perishable ecosystems in the state. Pines are exquisitely sensitive to intervention from people, rising or falling water tables, fertilizers, disruption of their roots, having plants planted around them, and so on. In almost every respect, pine trees are the quintessential trouble indicator of human presence. If we move in, they die out. All too often a beetle or borer or disease is blamed, but on closer examination the real cause was tree stress.The insects and diseases jumped on the weakened trees and were the secondary invaders, not the primary cause of decline.
A natural pine forest will thrive if left undisturbed, without encroachment from people, weeds, artificial drainage, or air pollution. With that being said, is it possible to re-create the pine forests of the distant past ? The answer is "probably not". I have seen so many beautiful pine forests die away just a few years after people moved into the neighborhood, paved the forest floor, laid down turf grass and petunias around their pines, and turned on the irrigation. Weed and feed fertilizers, city water, and people playing sports under the tree canopies all damage the roots of these sensitive trees. Once pines die or are blown down by hurricanes, few people other than native plant lovers want to replant them.
If we wish to replant Slash Pines or any other pine species, it should be done as a dedicated project, using dozens or hundreds of plants in large groups left alone without intervention from us. Pines are the premier tree in pine rockland forests, combined with other savannah / forest native species like saw palmetto and various grasses. These complicated ecosystems also thive on frequent fire outbreaks which remove weed interlopers and burn down heavy grass populations. Our resistance to controlled forest burning has threatened the future of pine forests almost everywhere.
When we ask why pines disappeared, let's look at the real reason: human intervention, not beetles or diseases.If you want to keep your pine trees in good shape, stay away from them, don't water or fertilize them, leave them alone in all ways.