COLUMBIA — A little-known fact about longleaf pine reproduction is that the just-sprouted seedlings are good to eat!
Wayne Grooms, Lexington County conservationist and long-time volunteer on S.C. Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy projects, says that when the longleaf pine seedlings are very young they lack the characteristic pine resin taste that needles of older pines have, and are a succulent, yet crispy, addition to salads.
Grooms said that in the past, during hard times in the “Piney Woods,” folks took advantage of every local source of nutrients they could find. He remembers eating them in salads as a child and has continued to do so all his life.
If you wish to try this tasty, natural food, look for 1- to 2-inch-high sprouts that resemble umbrellas with the fabric torn off, leaving only the handle (embryonic stem) and the five to 10 extended “arms” (these first whorls of leaves are called cotyledons, and feed the plant until it begins photosynthesizing) under mature longleaf pine trees that have recently opened cones.
But when you find them, don’t depend on coming back to get them in a few days, because doves and other animals also relish these succulent treats, and so by then they may be gone!
Pine needles are one of the herbs used in Oriental medicine. Pine needles contain many nutrients and bioactive materials, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins A & C.
Longleaf is the only Southern, “hard” pine that has seeds that sprout in the fall. This helps longleaf get a head start over species with seeds that sprout in the springtime, including those much less beneficial to wildlife, such as loblolly pine and sweetgum.
For more information on longleaf pine, visit the Longleaf Alliance website at www.longleafalliance.org.
This story courtesy of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.