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A Whale of a Woods

By: Andrew Saunders, Member of the Board of Mobile Botanical Gardens &

Member of the Longleaf Forest Management Committee

Our Longleaf Forest at Mobile Botanical Gardens is a gigantic living thing. A living thing that one can enter and walk within, fully immerged, like Jonah in the whale’s belly.

From the high canopy of the longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) to the bottom of the gopher tortoise burrows on the forest floor, all is connected—all plants and critters, big and small, all seeds and soil, all flourishing wildflowers and singing birds—all giving and taking in a life cycle nurtured by fire.

In deep time, when there were great forests but no foresters, massive stands of continuous longleaf dominated the south Atlantic and Gulf coastal plain. Naturally occurring fire from lightning strikes was nature’s simple rhythm of renewal for millennia. Our MBG Longleaf Treasure Forest of today has that rhythm of renewal in its bones, but we must provide the fire.

A collaborative group of folks provided fire on March 11 in our Longleaf preserve, just before COVID 19 distancing changed everything. Mobile Botanical Gardens, Alabama Forestry Commission, Longleaf Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, and City of Mobile joined resources to carry out a successful prescribed burn.

At Mobile Botanical Gardens, the Longleaf Forest offers peaceful connection with nature, at “social distance,” to those who wish to walk the trails. Apart from the trails, much of the ground is charcoal black, but quickly sprouting new growth like “green snow” on the sandy hillsides. It’s a great time to connect with this beautiful forest for the first time or the hundredth time.

Telling of a longleaf forest is thin soup compared to walking within it. Sandy trails weave through the landscape, welcome benches wait at overlooks, and storyboards appear at trailheads. There’s no special show time, no ticket taking, no admission charge. It’s a welcoming place where the quieter you are, the more the longleaf speaks to you.

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