When colonists settled Florida, Virginia and the Carolinas in the 1500s and 1600s Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) played a significant role in their survival. As the first settlers stepped ashore, forests of the four main varieties of SYP – Loblolly, Shortleaf, Longleaf and Slash Pines – greeted them.

By Hudson - Photo courtesy National Park Service. Research by A. Lawrence Kocher.A Small Jamestown House Built About 1630, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30267153
By Hudson – Photo courtesy National Park Service. Research by A. Lawrence Kocher.A Small Jamestown House Built About 1630, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30267153

The timber provided the raw material settlers needed to build fortifications, homes, furniture, cabinetry and the other buildings vital to persevering in a new land. Additionally, one of the primary reasons for settling the new world was the hope of economic benefit. While land ownership interested the colonists, they also planned to export minerals like gold and iron ore, wood products and other natural resources. In fact, one of the first materials shipped back to wood-starved England was wood destined for use in ship construction, furniture, houses, and other building applications.

As the colonies began to grow and prosper, settlers were encouraged to produce pine tar and pitch from trees to ship back to England. By 1725, four-fifths of the tar and pitch employed in England came from the American colonies. By the late 1800s, the manufacture of tar, pitch, and turpentine became a dominant industry for the Southeastern region.

During the latter half of the 19th-century kilns laden with SYP used the process of destructive distillation to manufacture soft wood charcoal and collect the resulting pine tar by-products. The “fat wood” (yellow pine that is devoid of its bark and growth wood) was piled in a pit or brick kiln and arranged so that the tar, when formed, runs off and funneled into barrels.

By the beginning of the 20th century, nearly half of all timber harvested in the U.S. came from the South, much of it Southern Yellow Pine. In the 1930s SYP became a staple in paper mills because it’s an excellent source of pulp.

Timber residential building
Murray Grove under construction, London, UK, 2009. Courtesy Waugh Thistleton Architects.

Southern Yellow Pine continues to be sought after by builders and homeowners for framing, flooring, decorative beams, window trim, and decking. Plus, the many uses for SYP byproducts further underscore its usefulness, while also bringing the amount of waste to near zero. As wood technologies develop and tall wood buildings rise, Southern Yellow Pine will continue to be a part of American innovation.

Sources:

Trout River Flooring – American Heart Pine. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.troutriverlumber.com/pages/products/heart_pine.html

Pine Tar; History And Uses – maritime.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://maritime.org/conf/conf-kaye-tar.htm

Southern Yellow Pine – Learning Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.builddirect.com/learning-center/flooring/pine-southern-yellow/