Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is the most common pine tree found on Hilton Head Island. It is highly adaptive, growing in both wet and dry soils, and is somewhat salt tolerant. Reaching heights of about 80 feet on the island, it often forms the tallest tree canopy, or overstory, in our forests. Its leaves, or needles, are arranged in clusters called "bundles", with usually three slightly twisted needles of about 6-9 inches in length per bundle. It produces seeds in cones that are covered with short spines to protect the seeds from predators. Each seed is equipped with a tiny "wing". When caught by the wind, this wing acts like a helicopter blade, spiraling the seed away from the shade of the parent plant, hopefully to a more open area where there is less competition with other plants for sun, water and nutrients.
Loblolly pines and pines in general are of extreme importance to wildlife. They produce large numbers of pine seeds, which are fed upon by many native birds such as ground and mourning dove, wild turkey, bobwhite quail, Carolina chickadee, brown thrasher, red-cockaded woodpecker, and pine warbler. Their wood and bark are used as food by mice and rats, and their needles and twigs by white-tailed deer. Stands of young pines with foliage near the ground form valuable cover for wildlife, and mature trees acts as favored roosts for migratory robins, and favored nest sites for mourning doves, bald eagles and osprey. They also provide nesting habitat and insect food for our woodpeckers, including the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.
Arbor Day Foundation: www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/