Pinus elliottii var. densa
Slash pine trees are commonly seen throughout southwest Florida and, because of that, their beauty may be overlooked by many residents. Besides the stately grandeur imparted by the slash pine tree as a whole, its green needles can appear golden in the morning light and its plates of bark can have a fiery glow during sunset. Although slash pine trees do not produce showy flowers, they do produce two types of reproductive cones. The scaly male cones are smaller and produce yellow pollen grains that float through the air to fertilize ovules in female cones. The woody female cones are larger and produce winged seeds that twirl down to the earth, unless hungry gray squirrels find them first.
Other than gray squirrels that eat slash pine seeds, various wildlife species make use of these trees. Many types of birds frequent slash pine canopies, from Pine Warblers to Bald Eagles. Trees infected with heartwood fungus are used by endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, which excavate nest holes in the soft wood. But, the slash pines aren’t just for the birds. Rat snakes may climb the vertical slash pine trunks to feast on nestling birds or eggs. Black bears may scratch or climb conifers like slash pines. Male white-tailed deer may rub their antlers on the trunk to remove the antlers’ velvet covering and to communicate reproductive signals to other deer. To look for wildlife use of slash pine habitat, visit Naples Botanical Garden and take a walk through the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Uplands Preserve.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published by the News-Press.