Georgia Trees

The northwest corner of the campus is Georgia in miniature.

McDonough/College Corner More than 30 tree species grow here, including such Georgia natives as sassafras (Sassafras albidum), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), water oak (Quercus nigra), American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), southern sugar maple (Acer barbatum) and American holly (Ilex opaca).

Longleaf Pine Also growing here is an icon of the Deep South. Look for the long, drooping needles of our young longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). This tree is adapted to the sandy soil, abundant sun, and frequent wildfires of Georgia’s coastal plain, before European settlement. Its seed lies dormant until fire burns away the grass and leaf litter. After sprouting, the seedling spends years as a low clump of needles, so densely packed that fire cannot easily reach the tree itself. Not until it has sent down a stout, deep taproot will the pine end its grassy stage. Then it shoots upwards to outgrow the threat of wildfire, eventually reaching as high as 100 feet.

There was a time when longleaf pines stretched over 90 million acres. On his travels through Georgia in 1773, the naturalist William Bartram found himself upon a vast plain, “a forest of the great long-leaved pine, the earth covered with grass, interspersed with an infinite variety of herbaceous plants, and embellished with extensive savannas, always green, sparkling with ponds of water.” But today the longleaf pine ecosystem is almost entirely gone, to our own detriment. Scientists studying that natural community have counted as many as 100 plant species in one square meter of ground, including some that are in danger of extinction: which one of these plants could prove to be a cure for a human disease?