What Is Southern Pine?

What is Southern Pine

(or Southern Yellow Pine)?

According to the USDA Forest Service’s Utilization of the Southern Pines handbook, Southern Pine is defined as those species whose major range is in the United States, south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Great Plains.

There are 10 species, all “hard” pines – diploxylon (hard needled) members of the genus Pinus (see chart).

The four principal species – loblolly, shortleaf, longleaf and slash – make up 90% of the Southern Pine timber inventory and are referred to commercially as “Southern Pine” or “Southern Yellow Pine.”
“Mixed Southern Pine” includes the minor species of Virginia pine and Pond pine.

SpeciesCommon Name
Pinus palustrisLongleaf pine
P. elliotiiSlash pine
P. taedaLoblolly pine
P. echinataShortleaf pine
Minor Species
P. virginianaVirginia pine
P. serotinaPond pine
P. clausaSand pine
P. glabraSpruce pine
P. rigidaPitch pine
P. pungensTable Mountain pine

What is heart pine?

Southern Pine lumber is composed of sapwood, heartwood, or a combination of the two.
Heartwood is the “dead” or dormant center of a tree surrounded by the living sapwood. Generally, heartwood can be distinguished from sapwood by its reddish color. It is more dense, and thus harder, than sapwood. Lumber cut from the heartwood of any Southern Pine species can be considered heart pine.

In the heart pine trade, the rule of thumb is “The redder the better.”

According to the special quality classifications of the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau grading rules, heart-face lumber is free from sapwood on the face side. Heart or all-heart lumber is free from sapwood throughout the piece. However, there is no set ratio of heartwood to sapwood in the grading rules that defines heart pine lumber. Instead, SPIB rules establish measurement guidelines so the lumber buyer and seller can agree on a specified percentage of heartwood required in each piece.

Of the 10 Southern Pine species, longleaf pine is most commonly referred to as “heart pine.” It is generally characterized by tighter growth rings, higher density, and greater proportion of heartwood.

Longleaf lumber is so prized it merits a special quality classification within the grading rules. However, SPIB adds another wrinkle to the heart pine puzzle. The rule states, “Longleaf lumber shall be produced only from Southern Pine tree species (botanical) of Pinus elliottii [slash pine] and P. Palustris [longleaf pine] …”

Because the two species share many characteristics (long needles, higher density), both slash and longleaf timber can be manufactured as longleaf lumber if minimum requirements like ring density are met under the rules.

Longleaf pine was not replanted as widely as other faster-growing species. Consequently, longleaf pine may be in short supply while efforts are under way to increase its availability (visit Longleaf Alliance to find out more).

“Antique heart pine” or “reclaimed heart pine” refers to lumber from old growth Southern Pine, regardless of species, salvaged as timbers from old factories, mills or barns, or recovered as “sinker” logs from river bottoms. Other variations on the theme include “old heart” and “river pine.”
Lumber cut exclusively from today’s longleaf timber is also referred to as “new heart pine.”

What is Arkansas Pine?

Arkansas Soft Pine was a trade name adopted by that state’s lumber manufacturers in 1916 to promote shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) of “uniquely superior quality peculiar to the timber growing region in the southern and western areas of Arkansas.”

The differences were a softer, more uniform texture, lighter weight, finer grain, and minimum pitch, according to the Handbook for Builders (1955) produced by the now-defunct Arkansas Soft Pine Bureau.

What is Carolina Pine?

Carolina Pine is a trade term generally applied to longleaf pine grown in the rolling sand hills of the Piedmont traversing North and South Carolina.

What is Florida Pine?

South Florida Slash Pine (pinus elliottii var. densa) is a distinct botanical variety of pinus elliottii, or slash pine. It is known to grow only in Florida with a range extending from the Lower Florida Keys to central Florida.

South Florida Pine is also known as Dade County Pine. It was used widely in the construction of many historic buildings in the Miami and Key West areas of Dade County, Florida.

Check out our Southern Pine Use Guide to learn more about Southern Pine and how to use it.