All Pine Trees Aren’t the Same: It May be One of Several Species

The term,” yellow pine”, can refer to several pine species or groups of species which tend to grow in similar forest types and yield similar strong wood. In the Western US, yellow pine refers to Jeffrey pine or Ponderosa pine. In the United Kingdom, yellow pine refers to Eastern white pine or Scots pine. In the Southern US, yellow pine refers to a special group of trees known as the Southern Yellow Pines, these are mostly longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, slash pine, and loblolly pine. This group of pine species has a special character and history of its own.

About Southern Yellow Pine

Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) was one of America’s original renewable resources. America’s first settlers depended on the expansive pine forests of the new continent to survive and prosper. Their first cabins, forts, furniture, and fuel all made use of Southern Pine. Southern Pine was one of the first species of wood exported from North America. In the early 1600’s most of Europe was in dire need for wood and Southern Pine was imported for England’s ship construction, furniture, houses, and other building applications. The early settlers developed a navel stores industry to export pine tar and pitch which eventually led to a significant source of needed income. Over the decades to come, SYP became an import source of fiber for a growing pulp industry. Now, nearly half of all timber harvested in the U.S. comes from the South, and most of it is Southern Yellow Pine. Because of comprehensive forest management practices, the acres of forest land producing timber has remained relatively stable for the past 100 years. As the lumber, pulp, and paper industries continue to innovate and improve forest management practices, SYP has become one of this country’s most important and expanding source of a green and sustainable natural resource.

SYP is currently grown on a little over 190 million acres of forest land in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. When the economy is strong, over 15 billion board feet of lumber will be produced every year. Southern Yellow Pine lumber has now become the premier building product of the South.

Southern Yellow Pine Lumber Species Groups

Southern Yellow Pine lumber is referred to commercially as “Southern Pine” or “Southern Yellow Pine”, and four principal species of the Southern Pine species group make up 90% of the Southern Pine timber inventory. These are loblolly, shortleaf, longleaf and slash pine. When grade marking lumber, they are collectively identified as “Southern Pine”.

There are also six minor pine species that are occasionally found mixed in with the major species. The minor species of southern pine include Pitch pine, Pond pine, Sand pine, and Spruce pine. Table Mountain pine and Virginia pine also occur throughout the ranges of the major southern pine species. They generally grow in mixed stands and are sometimes harvested along with the major pines.

With regards to Dimension Lumber the term, “Mixed Southern Pine” includes the minor species of Virginia pine and Pond pine and they are considered as a separate species group. The grade mark must indicate the separate species or show, “Mixed Southern Pine” when mixed with the principal species. Sand pine and spruce pine are also treated as separate species groups and must be identified separately in the grade stamp as “Spruce Pine” or as “Sand Pine” when grade marked. These species are the only minor species that find their way into a limited amount of lumber production.

Strong, durable, versatile, and beautiful  

The southern pines have an unusual combination of wood properties that permit their use in a wide range of products. Southern Yellow Pine is a fast-growing species group of pines which produces some of the strongest wood in North America. Its high density gives it natural strength, weight, impact and wearing resistance.

Slash and longleaf pines are the strongest and heaviest, with slash pines slightly higher in both properties. Both species are considered as very stiff, hard, and moderately high in shock resistance. This high strength and stiffness means that SYP is ideal for structural components, such as roof trusses, framing, and decking. Dense southern pine is preferred in heavy construction, such as bridges, trestles, and dock works. Southern pine lumber is used extensively for laminated softwood timbers. Because the wood of SYP treats easily with preservative chemicals it is used extensively for items such as piling, utility poles, decking, and railway ties. Currently, over 60 percent of the SYP lumber is treated for outdoor use.   

Shortleaf and loblolly pine are slightly lower in weight and strength properties than slash and longleaf pine but are still very strong. Shortleaf and loblolly pines are used for construction where strength is not quite as important.

Southern pines are the chief species used for wood pulp nationally. Roundwood and chips are used in the sulfate and semi-chemical processes, mainly to produce kraft paper and newsprint. The Nation’s rosin and turpentine generally referred to as naval stores, come from slash and longleaf pines. A large amount of southern pine is used to produce plywood; this industry began in 1963. Most of the plywood goes into residential sheathing and general construction. Southern Pine wood fiber is currently used in a multitude of engineered wood products, from I beams to particle and wafer board and LVL.

Southern Pine lumber is considered a moderately textured and beautiful wood, making it ideal for interior and exterior design projects. The wood has a distinctive color and grain. The sapwood ranges in color from white to yellowish and heartwood from yellow to reddish-brown, to dark red, depending on its age. Whether pressure treated or left natural, the light and warm color, plus the unique wood grain patterns, are ideal for decorative finishing. Southern Pine lumber can complement any décor, adding a distinct character, warmth and appeal for both interior and exterior use. Its natural beauty and widespread availability make it a favorite green building material for architects, designers and construction professionals.

Southern Pine delivers exceptional value. From building a deck to framing a house, from the most demanding engineered construction to DIY, Southern Pine is a strong, durable, versatile, and beautiful product for any building project.