The park-like characteristic of many longleaf forests, which were more appropriately called woodlands, set them apart from the dense, closed canopy forests of New England or the Pacific Northwest. The dramatic difference was due to fire. The south is the lightning capital of North America. There are more thunderstorm days and lightning strikes than in any other part of North America. These lightning strikes caused wildfires. Over eons of time, longleaf pine and the grassy understory developed under a regime of periodic fire. It’s estimated that fires naturally moved through longleaf forests every 2-6 years. Native Americans and early settlers also supplemented fire frequency through early fire management. Frequent fires eventually allowed less fire resistant hardwoods to survive only in the wetter areas that would burn less frequently, i.e. hardwood stream bottoms and swamps.
Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) once dominated landscapes across South Carolina and the Southern U.S. Ranging inland from the coast as much as 200 miles, you could find longleaf from southeastern Virginia down to south Florida and westward into east Texas. While primarily a Coastal Plain species, longleaf pine ranged up into the lower Piedmont in Alabama, the Carolinas & Georgia and into the mountains in northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia.