After waiting three years for a bumper crop of pine cones, the native Lost Pines loblolly pine seeds are ready to be harvested for first time since 2011 as the next step in the process of recovering from the Bastrop County Complex Fire.
According to Jamie Hackett, Bastrop and Buescher State Park superintendent, cones must be harvested when they are ripe (late September to early October), before they open and release their seeds (usually mid October).
“The seeds will be grown into seedlings which will be planted in Bastrop State Park,” Hackett said. “We are reforesting the areas of the park that were most intensely burned in the fire and we are excited to have local seeds to replant here in the park.”
The Bastrop County Complex Fires that destroyed almost 1,700 homes and took the lives of two Bastrop County residents left a trail of ashes over 96 percent of Bastrop State Park.
“We are confident in the future of the park’s loblolly pine forest. Nature is resilient and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is committed to guiding the park’s forest back to a natural and healthy condition,” Hackett said. “Active management, such as tree planting, is required in some areas, whereas only the passing of time is required in others.”
With the help of Bastrop Tree Service and Bastrop and Buescher State Park staff, 165 burlap sacks were filled with green, ripe pine cones strategically picked from tree tops over the past few days.
Each sack was filled with approximately 400 cones, each containing at least 40 seeds. In total, two million seeds will be harvested towards next year’s planting efforts.
From there, the cones will be sent to a commercial processor in Louisiana where they will be dried until open, shaken to extract the seeds, separated from their individual wings and then bagged for storage until ready to plant.
According to Hackett, a portion of the seeds will be sent to a commercial nursery for “grow out” where they will go through a stratification process (a method of wetting, then freezing for a specific number of days) to mimic natural conditions and stimulate seed germination.
The seeds will then be planted in early spring and grow to be about 12 inches in height before they are shipped back to the Bastrop State Park in refrigerated trucks to be planted in the park during late fall/winter – making seedlings about eight months old when planted.
“You can’t put a price on these seeds,” said Greg Creacy, TPWD regional natural resources coordinator. “They are not commercially available. The only place you can get them from are the trees in Lost Pines.”