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Gymnosperms of northeast Alabama and adjacent highlands.


This paper is a guide to all the cone-bearing plants (conifers) of the northeast Alabama. Plant species occurring in adjacent highland counties are also part of this flora. The study area includes 13 specific and infraspecific taxa, representing a total of 7 genera, 3 families, 2 orders, 2 classes, and 2 divisions. This guide includes illustrations, maps, identification keys, habitats, distributional data, conservation status, uses, and pertinent synonymy.

The flora is based upon herbarium specimens deposited at the Jacksonville State University Herbarium (JSU) and other southeastern herbaria which include Vanderbilt University (VDB), University of Alabama (UNA), University of North Alabama (UNAF), and Auburn University (AUA). Data from appropriate literature are also included. Nomenclature primarily follows Flora of North America [FNA] (1993+) and more recent publications.

The area delineated as Northeast Alabama includes Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Jefferson, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, Morgan, Randolph, Saint Clair, Shelby, and Talladega counties (Figure 1). Adjacent highland counties include Bibb, Chambers, Chilton, Coosa, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston. The highlands of Alabama consists of the following Provinces: Interior Low Plateau (Highland Rim), Appalachian Plateau (Cumberland Plateau), Ridge and Valley, and Piedmont Plateau (Figure 2).

Families, genera, specific and infraspecific taxa are arranged alphabetically within major vascular plant groups (divisions, classes, and orders). Information on specific and infraspecific taxa is set up in the following format: Number. Name author(s) [derivation of specific and infraspecific epithets]. VERNACULAR NAME. Habit; nativity (if exotic). Pollen and seed shedding dates. Habitat data; highland provinces; relative abundance; [occurrence on Coastal Plain]. Conservation status. Wetland indicator status. Comments. Synonyms.


Introduced taxa are followed by a dagger ( ). Species of conservation concern are followed by a star (*). The coded state ranks (ANHP 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999) are defined in Table 1. Wetland indicator status codes (Reed 1988) are defined in Table 2. Relative abundance is for occurrence in the study area and not for the whole state. Frequency of occurrence is defined as follows, ranging in descending order: common (occurring in abundance throughout), frequent (occurring throughout but not abundant), occasional (known in more than 50% of the region but in scattered localities), infrequent (known in less than 50% of the region in scattered localities or occurring in restricted habitats), rare (known from only a few counties and restricted to specific localities), and very rare (known from only a single or few populations; mostly narrow endemics, disjuncts, and peripheral taxa). Synonyms are from Mohr (1901)- M; Small (1933)- S; Radford et al. (1968)- R; and Clark (1971)- C. Suggested pronunciation, author(s), dat e of citation, common name, and derivations are provided after each genus.

Distribution maps are typically for 18 counties in the northeast region of Alabama. The maps are expanded to adjacent highland counties for taxa that are rare or peripheral. Key to symbols are as follows: Filled circle ("") = documented at Jacksonville State University herbarium; filled square ("") = documented at another herbarium; open circle ("") reported in literature.


1. Leaves fan-shaped and deciduous; venation dichotomous (forking) Ginkgoaceae

1. Leaves needle-like or scale-like, evergreen or deciduous; venation not dichotomous.

2. Deciduous trees; bark fibrous; seed cones round and woody with scales that do not overlap (valvate); leaves alternate Cupressaceae (Taxodium)

2. Evergreen trees or shrubs; bark not fibrous; seed cones round to oblong and woody (with overlapping scales) or fleshy (with scales that do not overlap); leaf arrangement various.

3. Leaves needle-like; leaf arrangement alternate or in fascicles (bundles); seed cones woody and large (more than 3 cm long) with overlapping (imbricate) scales Pinaceae

3. Leaves scale-like or needle-like; leaf arrangement opposite or whorled, not in fascicles; seed cones fleshy and small (up to 1 cm long) Cupressaceae (Juniperus)


Class 1. Ginkgoopsida

Order 1. Ginkgoales

1. GINKGOACEAE (Maidenhair Tree Family)

Selected reference: Whetstone, R. D. 1993. Ginkgoaceae. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol.2, pp. 350-351.

1. GINKGO {GINK-go} Linnaeus 1771 * Maidenhair Tree * [Chinese yin, silver, and hing, apricot, in reference to the appearance of the seed which has an outer fleshy coat and a hard silver-colored inner coat.]

1. Ginkgo biloba Linnaeus [two lobed]. MAIDENHAIR TREE; GINKGO. Figure 1. Deciduous tree; native to China. Pollen shed March - April; seeds shed August - November. Ginkgo is widely planted as an ornamental, but not documented to escape from cultivation in Alabama. The unusual shape of the crown, natural resistance to disease, and yellow leaf color in the fall make this a favorite street and park tree. Female (ovulate) trees produce an abundance of seeds, which develop a particularly obnoxious odor; the planting of ovulate ginkgos is often discouraged for this reason. Seeds (canned with fleshy outer coat removed) are sold in ethnic markets as "silver almonds" or "white nuts." Oils from the outer coat are known to cause dermatitis in some humans. Ginkgo is a popular medicinal herb. An extract from the "nuts" are used to calm upset people as well as treat a variety of other ailments (Krochmal 1984). The species is doubtfully naturalized in North America despite about two centuries of cultivation here. Most, if n ot all, ginkgoes exist only in cultivation. It is identical to ancient fossils and is sometimes called a "living fossil." The name "maiden-hair" alludes to the shape of the leaves which resemble leaflets of the Maiden-hair Fern (Adiantum).


Class 1. Pinopsida (=Coniferopsida)

Order 1. Pinales (=Coniferales)

1. CUPRESSACEAE (Redwood or Cypress Family)

Selected reference: Watson, F. D. and Eckenwalder, J. T. 1993. Cupressaceae. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 2, pp. 399-401.

1. Evergreen trees or shrubs; leaves opposite or in whorls; female (seed) cones berry- or drupe-like, to 9 mm long; plant of upland habitats Juniperus

1. Deciduous trees; leaves alternate; female cones dry, hard, typically greater than 20 mm long; plant of wetlands Taxodium

Note: A small population of Cupressus arizonica Greene, Arizona Cypress, is established along a fencerow in Calhoun County. This native of the western United States, was probably seeded in by birds. No other populations are currently known within the study area. Though superficially similiar to Juniperus virginiana, this cypress is easily separated by its large (2+ cm) woody cones in comparison to the smaller (6 to 10mm) berry-like cones of Juniperus virginiana. In addition, a specimen of Platycladus orientalis (Linnaeus) Franco [Thuja orientalis Linnaeus], Oriental Arborvitae, has been collected in Jackson County. Because Arizona Cypress and Oriental Arborvitae are rare escapes and unlikely to become established within the study area, they have not been included within this treatment.

1. JUNIPERUS {jew-NIP-er-us; yoo-NIP-er-us} Linnaeus 1753 * Juniper; Red-Cedar * [Juniperus, Latin name for Juniper.]

Selected reference: Adams, R. P. 1993. Juniperus. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 2, 412-420.

1. Prostrate to spreading shrub; all leaves linear "often awl-like", margins upturned, 5 to 15 mm long, glaucous line on upper surface; seed cones (berries) axillary J. communis var. depressa

1. Upright tree; mature leaves scale-like, 2-5 mm long, margins not upturned and lacking glaucous line on upper surface, often forming overlapping pairs; young or stump sprout leaves needle-like, 5-10 mm long, in whorls of three; seed cones (berries) terminal J. virginiana

1. Juniperus communis * Linnaeus [in clumps] var. depressa Pursh [flattened]. GROUND JUNIPER; COMMON JUNIPER. Figure 2. Evergreen shrub. Pollen shed March - April; female cones maturing in second or third year. Rocky ledges and slopes; Ridge and Valley (Chocolocco Mountain); very rare. State Rank, S1. Wetland Indicator Status, UPL. The "berries" have been used medicinally to increase urination, induce menstration, and relieve gas. Indians used the needles and twigs to make a poultice for wounds (Krochmal 1984). Large doses are considered toxic, causing kidney failure and digestive irritation (Foster and Duke 1990). The "berries" are also used to flavor gin. Synonym: Juniperus sibirica Burgsdorff S.

2. Juniperus virginiana Linnaeus [Virginian]. EASTERN RED-CEDAR. Figure 3. Evergreen tree. Pollen shed January - March; seeds shed September - November of first year. Dry sites, including slopes, roadsides, fencerows, and open disturbed areas; infrequently occurs within "drier" floodplain areas; all highland provinces; common; [Coastal Plain]. Wetland Indicator Status, FACU-. The aromatic and lustrous wood of this tree has been long prized for furniture production. During the early 1900s, this species was the sole source for pencil wood. When all merchantable timber had been harvested, lumbermen began to tear down eastern red-cedar rail fences and barns to meet the demands of the pencil trade (Peattie 1991). Southern Red-cedar, Juniperus virginiana Linnaeus var. silicicola (Small) E. Murray, is very similiar to this species. The distribution of southern red-cedar is limited to the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain of the southeastern states. The two varieties can be distinguished by the following characteristic s. Juniperus virginiana: female cones 4-6 mm; male cones 3-4 mm; scale-like leaves acute at apex; crown spire shaped to rounded. Junipers virginiana var. silicola: female cones 3-4 mm; male cones 4-6 mm; scale-like leaves obtuse to acute at apex; flattened crown. Synonym: Sabina virginiana (Linnaeus) Antoine - S.

2. TAXODIUM {tax-OH-dee-um} Richard 1810 * Bald-Cypress * [Taxus, generic name of yew, and Greek -oides, like.] Following Watson and Eckenwalder (1993), this genus (along with the family Taxodiaceae) is included within Cupressaceae. Other treatments, such as Radford et al. (1968) and Clark (1971), recognized Taxodiaceae (the Redwood Family).

Selected reference: Watson, F. D. 1993. Taxodium. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 2, pp. 403-404.

1. Branches with leaves mostly in 2 ranks (specimens should not be from juvenile individuals, fertile branchlets, stump sprouts, terminal vegetative branchlets, or late-season growth); leaves mostly spreading; leaves narrowly linear, 5-17 mm long T. distichum var. distichum

1. Branches with leaves not in 2 ranks; majority of leaves ascending (and often overlapping) in a vertical plane along twigs; leaves narrowly lanceolate, 3-10mm long T distichum var. imbricarium

1. Taxodium distichum (Linnaeus) Richard var. distichum [two-ranked]. BALD-CYPRESS. Figure 4. Deciduous tree. Pollen shed March - April; seeds shed September - October. Edge of reservoirs and rivers, backwater sloughs, and low wet areas adjacent to railroad rights-of-way; Cumberland Plateau, Ridge and Valley; infrequent; [chiefly Coastal Plain]. Wetland Indicator Status, OBL. Bald Cypress is planted in yards and in reservoirs and other impoundments for wildiife habitat. This species usually does not escape in urban environments, but becomes readily naturalized in wetland systems. Only those populations believed to be native or naturalized were included within this treatment.

2. Taxodium distichum (Linnaeus) Richard var. imbricarium (Nuttall) Croom [over-lapping]. POND-CYPRESS. Figure 5. Deciduous tree. Pollen shed March - April; seeds shed September - October. Banks and shallow waters of reservoirs along the Coosa River; Ridge and Valley; very rare; [chiefly Coastal Plain]. Wetland Indicator Status, OBL. Because of the its well-known durability, both varieties of Taxodium distichum are highly prized for their lumber. Bald-Cypress is more characteristic of flowing water swamps, whereas Pond-Cypress is more often found in still-water swamps. Synonym: Taxodium ascendens Brongniart -S, R

2. PINACEAE (Pine Family)

Selected references: Price, R. A. 1989. The genera of Pinaceae in the southeastern United States. J. Arnold Arbor. 70:247-305. Thieret, J. W. 1993. Pinaceae. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 2, pp. 352-354.

1. Leaves round or diamond-like in cross section and in fascicles (bundles); seed cones more than 2 cm long Pinus

1. Leaves flat in cross-section, not fascicled; seed cones less than 2 cm long Tsuga

1. PINUS {PYE-nus} Linnaeus 1753 * Pines * [Classical Latin name for pine.]

Selected reference: Kral, R. 1993. Pinus. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol.2, pp.373-398.

1. Leaves "needles" in bundles of 5; mid-branches of mature trees whorled; cones narrow and elongate; cone scales without prickles P. strobus

1. Leaves in bundles of 2 or 3; mid-branches of mature trees not whorled; cones not narrow and elongate; cone scales with prickles.

2. Leaves usually 3 per fascicle; leaf more than 14 cm long.

3. Leaves more than 25 cm long; leaf sheaths (around base of fascicle) more than 2 cm long; terminal buds silvery white; mature seed (female) cones usually more than 15 cm long P. palustris

3. Leaves less than 25 cm long; leaf sheaths less than 2 cm long; terminal buds brownish; mature seed cones usually less than 15 cm long P. taeda

2. Leaves usually 2 per fascicle; leafless than 14cm long.

4. Leaves twisted and less than 6 cm long; twigs bark smooth P. virginiana

4. Leaves straight to slightly twisted and more than 6 cm long; twigs bark rough P. echinata

1. Pinus echinata Miller [spiny]. SHORTLEAF PINE; SOUTHERN YELLOW PINE. Figure 6. Evergreen tree. Pollen shed March -- April; seeds shed September -- October. Upland woods; all highland provinces; common; [Coastal Plain]. Wetland Indicator Status, UPL. A valuable lumber tree with a high fuel value. The inner bark and young male cones of pines can be used as an emergency food in times of need. These parts have a disagreeable taste, but are nutritious (Peterson 1977).

2. Pinus palustris Miller [marshy]. LONGLEAF PINE; YELLOW PINE. Figure 7. Evergreen tree. Pollen shed March April; seeds shed September - October. In our area, usually on slopes and ridges with sandy soil; Cumberland Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Piedmont Plateau; infrequent; [Coastal Plain]. Wetland Indicator Status, FACU+. One of the few pines to exhibit a grass-like stage which helps to protect it from fire. Periodic fires clear away ground litter and allow seeds a better chance to germinate. Because this species is not as easily machine planted, sites that are clear-cut are often replanted in Slash or Loblolly pines to maximize pulpwood rotations (Brown and Kirkman 1990). Trees are tapped for their turpentine and resin. Heartwood splinters (which have lots of resin) are often called "light-wood" or "fat-wood" in the south and are used to start fires. Wood is strong and durable. Turpentine oil has been used to treat colic, diarrhea, tapeworms, and constipation (Krochmal 1984). Northeast Alabama is one of the few areas with montane long-leaf pine communities that supports colonies of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

3. Pinus strobus Linnaeus [cone]. EASTERN WHITE PINE. Evergreen tree. Figure 8. Pollen shed March - April; seeds shed August - September. One collection has been made in the Cumberland Plateau, in Dekalb County, and may have been introduced. It is also reported for Lawrence County in the Bankhead National Forest. Wetland Indicator Status, FACU. This pine is extensively planted m the northern part of the state. White Pine is found mainly in the Blue Ridge of Georgia and Tennessee and throughout the more northern states in the eastern United States and Canada. An important timber tree with soft and light wood that is often used for cabinets, paneling, and interior trim. Once prized as a wood for the masts of ships in colonial times. Young shoots, stripped of their needles, were once made into a candy by New Englanders (Fernald and Kinsey 1958).

4. Pinus taeda Linnaeus [ancient name for resinous pines]. LOBLOLLY PINE; OLD-FIELD PINE. Figure 9. Evergreen tree. Pollen shed March - April; seeds shed October - November. Low woods upland woods, roadsides and fields; all highland provinces; common; [Coastal Plain]. Wetland Indicator Status, FAC. A "loblolly" is a natural depression where this tree sometimes grows (Little 1980). One of the most important lumber trees in the South. This species is often attacked and killed by the Southern Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis). Slash Pine, Pinus elliottii Engelmann, is native to the southern coastal plain and is similar to Loblolly, but can be identified by its glossy leaves that are in bundles of 2 and 3. Tar from this tree has been used in a vapor that is inhaled to treat pulmonary diseases. It is also applied as a salve for skin diseases (Krochmal 1984). Seeds of pines are eaten by game birds such as turkey and quail; songbirds such as Red Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Car olina Chickadee, and Pine Warbler; and mammals such squirrels and mice (Martin, et al. 1951).

5. Pinus virginiana Miller [Virginian]. SCRUB PINE; VIRGINIA PINE. Figure 10. Evergreen tree. Pollen shed March - May; seeds shed September - November. Thy, rocky soils in woods and woodland borders, especially on slopes and ridges; Cumberland Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Piedmont Plateau; common. Wetland Indicator Status, UPL. Wood is weak, but is used for pulp and sometimes railroad ties. Also cultivated as a Christmas tree. Spruce Pine, Pinus glabra Walter, resembles Scrub Pine, but has leaves more than 6 cm long and grows in low woods on the Coastal Plain.

2. TSUGA {tsu-GAH} (Endlicher) Carriere 1855 * Hemlocks * [Japanese name for the native hemlock of Japan.]

Selected reference: Taylor, R. J. 1993. Tsuga. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 2, pp. 362-365.

1. Tsuga canadensis (Linnaeus) Carriere [of Canada]. EASTERN HEMLOCK; CANADA HEMLOCK. Figure 11. Evergreen tree. Pollen shed March - April; seeds shed September - November. Cool, moist slopes and ravines; Cumberland Plateau; rare. Wetland Indicator Status, FACU. The soft, brittle wood is sometimes utilized for pulp and crating, but is rarely used for lumber. This tree makes poor firewood because it pops and sends off sparks. Bark was used by pioneers as a source of tannin. Trees would often be stripped of their bark and left to die (Brown and Kirkman 1990). Young needles can be used to make a pleasant tasting tea that contains Vitamin C (Peterson 1977). Widely planted in the northern part of the state as an ornamental tree. Naturally growing in Pisgah Gorge in Jackson County and in the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama. An old record from 1949 exists for Jefferson County. This specimen was collected in rocky soil about 20 feet above Village Creek approximately 2 mile north of Lindberg. A collectio n of hemlock made in Dekalb County might have been introduced.
Table 1

Definition of state ranks.

Code Definition

S1 Critically imperiled in Alabama
 because of extreme rarity or
 because of some factor(s) making
 it especially vulnerable to
 extirpation from Alabama.
S2 Imperiled in Alabama because of
 rarity or because of some
 factor(s) making it very
 vulnerable to extirpation from the
S3 Rare or uncommon in Alabama.
S4 Apparently secure in Alabama, with
 many occurrences.
S5 Demonstrably secure in Alabama and
 essentially "ineradicable" under
 present conditions.
SH Of historical occurrence, perhaps
 not verified in the past 20 years,
 and suspected to be still extant.
SR Reported, but without persuasive
 documentation which would provide
 a basis for either accepting or
 rejecting the report.
SU Possibly in peril in Alabama, but
 status uncertain.
S? Not ranked to date.

Table 2

Definition of wetland indicator codes.

Code Status Probability of Occurrence

OBL Obligate Wetland Species Occurs with estimated 99%
 probability in wetlands.

FACW Facultative Wetland Estimated 67%-99% probability
 Species of occurrence in wetlands,
 1%-33% probability
 in nonwetlands.

FAC Facultative Species Equally likely to occur in
 wetlands and nonwetlands
 (34%-66% probability).

FACU Facultative Upland Estimated 67%-99% probability
 Species of occurrence
 in nonwetlands, 1%-33%
 probability in wetlands.

UPL Obligate Upland Species Occurs with estimated 99%
 probability in uplands.

NI No Indicator Status Insufficient information
 available to determine
 an indicator status.

Note: Positive or negative signs indicate a frequency toward higher (+)
or lower (-) frequency of occurrence within a category.


We are grateful to Robert Kral, the "botanical king" of the Southeast, for his thorough review of this flora. His many comments and suggestions greatly improved this work. We also appreciate the late Warren Herb Wagner, Jr. and Jack Short for reading through the manuscript and providing valuable insight. Finally, we thank Verna Gates for her grammatical review of this document.


Alabama Natural Heritage Program [ANHP]. 1994. Vascular Plant Inventory Tracking List, April edition. Montgomery, Alabama.

Alabama Natural Heritage Program. 1996. Species Inventory List. Montgomery, Alabama.

Alabama Natural Heritage Program [ANHP]. 1997. Inventory List of Rare Threatened and Endangered Plants, Animals and Natural communities of Alabama. Privately printed by the Alabama Natural Heritage Program, Montgomery, Alabama.

Alabama Natural Heritage Program. 1999. Inventory List of Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Plants, Animals, and Natural Communities of Alabama. Montgomery, Alabama.

Brown C. L., and L. K. Kirkman. 1990. Trees of Georgia and adjacent States. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Clark, R. C. 1971. The Woody Plants of Alabama. Ann. of Missouri Bot. Gard. 58: 99-242.

Fernald, M. L. and A. C. Kinsey. 1958. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.

Flora of North America [FNA] Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 3+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Foster, S. and J. A. Duke. 1990. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

Krochmal, A. and C. Krochmal. 1984. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. New York Times Book Co., Inc., New York.

Little, E. L. 1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Martin, A. C., H. S. Zim and A. L. Nelson. 1951. American Wildlife & Plants, A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits, 1961 reprint. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.

Mohr, C. 1901. Plant Life of Alabama. Cont. U. S. Nat. Herb. 6.

Peterson, L. A. 1977. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

Peattie, D. C. 1991. A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. The University of North Carolina Press.

Reed, P.B. 1988. National List of Plant Species that Occur in Wetlands: Southeast (Region 2). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Rep. 88 (24), 244 p.

Small, J. K. 1933. Manual of the Southeastern flora. Published by the author. New York.
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Title Annotation:conifer plants
Author:Spaulding, Daniel D.; Ballard, J. Mark; Whetstone, R. David; Montgomery, Marion
Publication:Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science
Geographic Code:1U6AL
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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