Way back in the way back, we talked about the tree species that collectively form the group known as Southern Yellow Pines. Remember? We talked about how most of our joists were various species of SYP: shortleaf, loblolly and slash pines. We did, however, leave one species out of our discussion of SYP, promising that we’d dedicate a separate post to it. Two months later, we’re delivering: here is the post about Longleaf Pine.
Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) is a tree among trees: virgin trees once grew to up to 150 ft tall with trunk diameters of nearly four feet. “Palustris” refers to swamps or marshes, and represents a significant taxonomic error made by esteemed Scottish botanist Philip Miller, who first “discovered” the species during winter flooding and mistakenly assumed a marshy habitat.
Longleaf forest once dominated the Southeastern region of the US, with an estimated 90,000,000 acres of tall, straight, sturdy trees creating a supply of lumber that was seen as essentially inexhaustible. Fast forward to the present, and only .01% of those old growth longleaf forests exist.
In the reclaimed wood world, longleaf represents the gold standard of pines- because the tree grows slowly, it creates an extraordinarily tight grain with pronounced resin in latewood growth rings. High resin content, which made the tree especially useful as a source for pitch and turpentine, makes longleaf lumber wonderfully fragrant, and unusually heavy and hard. For a so-called softwood, longleaf lumber is just about as hard as some maple species.
As a general (though not ironclad) rule, first floor flooring in older houses was milled from harder woods than second floor flooring- higher foot traffic meant that first floors featured oak, ash, maple, and other hardwoods while second floors usually got softwoods like pine and fir. Though hardwood species were predominately used in higher end houses, the rule of using harder wood on the first floor often applies in more modest old houses. On Eager Street, most of the first floors feature longleaf flooring, while the second floors are various softer SYP species.
In 1907, when the floor was laid, longleaf pine was certainly a lower-cost alternative to hardwood, offering comparable hardness at a discounted price. One hundred odd years later, longleaf is a low-cost alternative no more, fetching a pretty penny as one of the more desirable reclaimed wood species. It’s not hard to see why: a quick pass through a planer knocked off 107 years of footfall and dust, resulting in the gorgeous board you see on the left.