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Tree to 30 m, trunk straight or twisted, 0.5–1 m dbh. Bark rough, scaly, reddish brown; in older trees, reddish brown to grey, breaking into large, irregular plates, divided by deep fissures. Crown rounded or flat-topped, and open. Branchlets thick, rigid, orange-brown; vegetative buds large, not resinous. Leaves in fascicles of two to three, dark green, straight or slightly twisted, rigid, semicircular in cross-section, (15–)18–25(–30) × 0.15 cm, apex acute. Fascicle sheaths 0.8–1.5 cm long, reddish brown, persistent. Cataphylls small, subulate, brown. Male strobili purplish to reddish brown, ovoid-oblong, 3–5 × 0.5–0.8 cm. Female cones subterminal, in whorls of three to five or more; peduncles stout, 0.1–0.2 cm long, scaly, deciduous. Cones (5–)7–15(–18) × (4–)6–9 cm, initially erect, later spreading or recurved, pinkish or pale purple with green apophyses, mature in about 18 months; mature cones basically ovoid, though shape varies. Scales 120–180, readily parting at maturity, flat, woody, oblong; apophysis flattened or slightly raised, rhombic, yellowish to reddish brown; umbo dorsal, raised, with a curved, persistent prickle. Seeds black or grey with dark spots; wings effective, 1.5–3(–3.5) × 1 cm, light brown. Thieret 1993, Farjon 2005a. Distribution USA: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina. Naturalised and weedy in South Africa, Zimbabwe. Habitat Restricted to lowlands on the Coastal Plain where it often favours sandy soils. USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Farjon 2005a. Cross-reference K217. Taxonomic note Pinus ellliottii, P. echinata and P. taeda form complex swarms of introgressed hybrids in much of the southeastern United States, and genetic purity cannot be expected in cultivated plants (L. Hatch, pers. comm. 2008).
Pinus elliottii is an important timber tree in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States, and should probably be left there. Planted as a forestry species, it has become invasive in Africa, and it has no advantages as an ornamental tree, within or outside its native range (Gilman & Watson 1994b). As with so many plants from this area it can tolerate cool winters, warranting a Zone 8 categorisation, but requires its summer heat and humidity to flourish, and is not hardy in most of North America (Sternberg 2004). It is therefore not well suited to most parts of our area, and although collectors will want it for their arboreta, great success should not be expected. In illustration of this, the largest specimen recorded in the British Isles by TROBI was a dead tree measured at 10.5 m in 2002 at the Hillier Gardens, where the species is no longer grown.
The south Florida population of Slash Pine is currently recognised as P. elliottii var. densa Little & K.W. Dorman, though it has occasionally been considered a distinct species. The major differences between the two are that seedlings of var. densa have a definite ‘grass stage’, while those of the type variety do not, and more of the leaf fascicles have two leaves, rather than three as in var. elliottii. The leaves and cones are slightly smaller than in the type, and it also has harder wood (Thieret 1993, Farjon 2005a). Not thought to be cultivated in our area, it is best known for its sought-after hard timber. It is slower growing than var. elliottii, and forms a round-crowned tree; Gilman & Watson (1994b) concede that it could make a ‘wonderful street tree’.