Restore Virginia’s Longleaf Pine-Pitcher Plant Ecosystem at Joseph Pines Preserve

To capture the entire native Virginia longleaf pine germplasm on a protected, managed property within the historic range of the taxon

Meadowview Biological Research Station is a non-profit IRS 501(c)(3) organization that was started in 1995 to preserve and restore the remaining fragments of Virginia’s imperiled longleaf pine-pitcher plant ecosystem. Many pitcher plant habitats have been lost in Virginia through drainage, development, fire exclusion, agricultural and silvicultural practices, urban expansion, or neglect and most of the associate plants found in these unique ecosystems are threatened with extinction. The rarity of these habitats is further highlighted by the state rarity ranking of many of the plant and animal species found in these sites. Many of these species are extremely state rare in Virginia and reach the northern limit of their range in southeastern Virginia.

Less than 100 clumps of the yellow pitcher plant, Sarracenia flava L., remain in the wild in 2 natural sites (Fig. 1) in southern Virginia (Sheridan and Karowe 2000). The yellow pitcher plant is a fascinating, carnivorous plant that attracts, captures, and digests insects. The plant evolved the carnivorous habit to compensate for the lack of nutrients in its native soil. The significance of these sites is further highlighted by the fact that southern Virginia is the northern limit for S. flava and the associated longleaf pine, Pinus palustris Miller, ecosystem. The longleaf pine ecosystem has emergent properties that support the pitcher plant community. One of the major properties provided by longleaf pine is mediation of natural, lightning caused fires.

Fig. 1. Historical distribution of Sarracenia flava. Exploded area shows distribution in Virginia with stars as extant sites and solid circles as extirpated colonies. Meadowview Biological Research Station (MBRS) located by square with cross lines.

Longleaf pine needles are longer than other southern pines, provide a matrix of aerated fuel in the groundcover, and are both slower to decompose and have a higher resin content than other southeastern U.S. pine species. All of these factors come into play to provide the requisite frequent fire to maintain pitcher plant habitats in an early successional state. Longleaf pine is also a commercially valuable tree, disease and fire resistant, that produces high quality saw timer. Historically, longleaf pine provided invaluable naval stores (turpentine, tar, pitch) to the colonists in southeastern Virginia.

Unfortunately, four hundred years of settlement in Virginia has resulted in almost the complete destruction of native Virginia longleaf pine. Virginia longleaf pine covered 1.5 million acres at settlement but now only 4432 trees remain on less than 800 acres (Fig. 2), based on a 1998 census by Meadowview Biological Research Station (Sheridan et al. 1999). Even worse is the fact that half of these remaining trees are less-fit, non-native Louisiana trees (Table 1) planted on a former native Virginia longleaf pine stand at the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve (Sheridan et al. 1999)! Clearly the longleaf pine-pitcher plant ecosystem is in need of preservation and restoration in Virginia.


Table 1. Relative Fitness of Longleaf Pine Co-planted in Virginia

Source Survival x Height =  Overall Fitness

Nansemond Co.




Rapides Parish




Harrison Co




Treutlen Co




Hillsborough Co.




There is currently no preserve in Virginia for native longleaf pine and yellow pitcher plant because the intact, exemplary examples typically purchased by conservation organizations do not remain within the state. Many of the rare species normally found within the longleaf pine/pitcher plant ecosystem occur as isolated, fragmented populations on unprotected, private land in southeastern Virginia. We are obtaining divisions from these unprotected sites to both maintain genetic diversity and to restore this ecosystem on our preserve. By bringing together fragments of this ecosystem we will not only maintain genetic diversity but also restore breeding populations.

Project Significance to Target Species
Our ten year goal was to establish a system of bog preserves in Maryland and Virginia that would guarantee the preservation of the unique pitcher plant ecosystem. Populations of rare plant species, as well as their important associates, continue to go extinct on unprotected land. While buying all of these remaining rare plant sites may be desirable, this goal is unrealistic from a financial, political (since some landowners may not want to sell), and biological point of view (some sites are degraded to the point that only a few rare plant elements are left). This goal was partially accomplished by the purchase of the Joseph Pines Preserve in Sussex County, VA by Meadowview Biological Research Station in 2004. (preserve maps).

The Joseph Pines Preserve is located in the gently rolling terrain of Sussex County, Virginia in the heart of the historic range of the longleaf pine-pitcher plant ecosystem. We worked with the previous landowners, Brad and Marsha Whitehead, successfully reintroducing native Sussex County yellow pitcher plant (Fig. 3) and performing test plantings of longleaf pine (Fig. 4).

We planted one acre of native Virginia longleaf pine on the preserve and over 1200 native yellow pitcher plant from six populations. In the past couple years we have cleared (mechanical chipping of hardwoods and pines) and burned 23.5 acres. This acreage was then planted with over 3000 native Virginia longleaf pine seedlings. These seedlings were all raised in-house and collection of seed was performed by Meadowview biologists from native Virginia longleaf pine trees.

All restoration work at Joseph Pines Preserve through mid-2005 was financed by operational funds and donations. In 2005 we were awarded a small grant through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to clear, burn and plant 20 acres of longleaf pine. Additional government assistance was obtained in 2006 through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Private Stewardship Grant Program to enhance, expand, expedite and complete our restoration efforts on the preserve.

The preserve is dedicated to protecting the entire remaining population of native Virginia yellow pitcher plant. For fifteen years Meadowview maintained six Virginia yellow pitcher plant populations in raised beds at the research facility in Caroline County, Virginia just south of Fredericksburg. During this period detailed studies were done on the reproductive biology of this native yellow pitcher plant stock. During the study four of the populations went extinct in the wild while we safeguarded and protected this valuable germplasm from loss. During the late winter and spring of 2003 trails were cut on the Joseph Pines Preserve and all the native yellow pitcher plant was moved from the research station and planted on the preserve. This large project involved a considerable amount of volunteer labor breaking apart the beds, dividing and cleaning the plants, transporting them to the preserve, and planting and flagging.

The preserve is also dedicated to capturing the entire Virginia longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Miller) genome by grafting, fascicle rooting, or seed propagation
(Figs. 5a & b).

With less than 4432 native longleaf pine trees left in Virginia, capturing the entire genome of this economically and ecologically valuable tree species is entirely possible. Longleaf pine is an associate species of yellow pitcher plant and is a keystone species in fire maintained ecosystems. The preserve will perform the vital role of preserving rare components of the longleaf pine-pitcher plant ecosystem which are left in small, isolated, unprotected fragments in southern Virginia (Table 1). Restoration efforts at the preserve will also provide habitat for rare animal taxa known from the area (Table 2). Due to our extensive field work in southern Virginia we know where these fragmented populations exist and who the landowners are to obtain permission to collect divisions or seed.

The preserve will also be used for our ongoing educational and scientific endeavors. In brief, we are attempting to restore a property to its pre-settlement condition
while at the same time preserving rare biological diversity in Virginia. By gathering together fragments of an ecosystem at the limits of its range we will restore breeding populations and maintain genetic reservoirs for future restoration work. Without this effort we will continue to lose valuable genetic material and subsequently suffer a loss of diversity.

Meadowview is competent to handle this undertaking since we have the requisite field experience and understanding of the ecology of the respective species. We also have designed the preserve to ensure that hydrologic regimes are maintained in seeps and ecological processes are restored for species persistence and spread.

Overall this project will restore habitat and populations of one federally-listed and seventeen state-listed plant taxa. In addition habitat will be enhanced for one federally and state endangered bird, one state threatened bird, and one state endangered fish.

Project Design
Our goal is to have a functioning longleaf pine-pitcher plant ecosystem at the Joseph Pines Preserve. The Joseph Pines Preserve is currently a mix of thinned stands of 30+ year old loblolly pine (23 acres), young replanted or volunteer loblolly pine/hardwood uplands (65 acres), shrubby sphagnous seeps and bogs (7 acres), soft hardwood bottoms (3 acres), and cleared areas (2 acres).

Specifically we propose to: Skid-steer mulch 34.5 acres pine/hardwood resprouts and install fire lanes, apply arsenal herbicide by back pack sprayer and/or tractor sprayer to 58 acres of hardwood resprouts (includes already planted 23.5 acres of Virginia longleaf pine), perform understory burn on 13 acres of 35 year old loblolly pine, apply selected chemical control (hack and squirt) to hardwood competition in 7 acres of sphagnous seeps, continue annual collection of native Virginia longleaf pine seed, and collect, propagate and reintroduce 18 rare plant taxa.

Skid-steer mulching, fire break installation, prescribed burning, and chemical application will be performed by licensed contractors in Virginia that have previously performed these services on Joseph Pines Preserve. Collection, propagation, and reintroduction of rare plant taxa will follow established protocols (Sheridan and Penick 2002).

Project Staff, Organization, Management and Responsibility

Phil Sheridan
Mr. Sheridan is both the President and one of the Directors of Meadowview Biological Research Station. He has both a B.S. and M.S. from Virginia Commonwealth University where he did his research work on pitcher plant genetics and biochemistry. He is currently enrolled in the Ecological Sciences Ph.D. program at Old Dominion University and his dissertation is on the population biology and genetics of the two putative purple pitcher subspecies in Maryland and Virginia. He developed a reproductive model for longleaf pine at the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve and is an active member of the Virginia Academy of Sciences. He has been a driving force for longleaf pine and pitcher plant preservation in Virginia and has numerous, peer-reviewed papers on these and other subjects. Mr. Sheridan directs the day-to-day activities of Meadowview Biological Research Station and would be responsible for supervising the proposed project.

Mr. Sheridan also has an extensive background in finance. He has ten years of experience in the savings bank industry including positions as assistant programmer, accounting clerk, bookkeeper, records manager, and supervisor in check processing. He also has several years of course work in Business Administration.

Dr. Robert Griesbach
Dr. Griesbach is a geneticist with the USDA Floral and Nursery Plant Research in Beltsville, Maryland and director of Meadowview. His scientific expertise and connections within the plant industry are important to accomplishing the mission of Meadowview. The two last box huckleberry plants, Gaylussacia brachycera (Michaux) Gray, in Maryland were prevented from going extinct due to a rescue and propagation effort promoted by Meadowview and undertaken by Dr. Griesbach. Box huckleberry is an associate of white-cedar/pitcher plant ecosystems and is endangered in Maryland. The plants will be propagated for reintroduction. A breeding program at USDA will also produce a box huckleberry cultivar for commercial release and monies raised will be used to fund rare plant conservation in Maryland.

Roger Horman
Roger Horman has retired as a principal scientist for the U.S. Navy , in Dahlgren, Virginia. In that capacity, he won the base's highest honor; the John Adolphus Dahlgren Award. He now works as a consultant for the Office of Naval Research. Roger is a board member of Meadowview. Roger and his wife Susan have been instrumental in obtaining grant funding and donations for Meadowview. Both are accomplished Master Gardeners. Due to the Horman's efforts Meadowview was a principal in both the Toyota Tapestry and Dominion Virginia Power Partnership grants awarded to Potomac Elementary School in 1999 and 2000. Those grants not only resulted in the students performing significant research on pitchers plants but also allowed the introduction of native Virginia longleaf pine and yellow pitcher plant to two sites within the species historical range in Virginia. Roger also provides invaluable service as Meadowview's webmaster.

Cynthia Laporta, CPA
Cynthia has recently joined Meadowview as Treasurer. Cynthia has a B.S. in Accounting from George Mason University and over 15 years experience in public accounting providing auditing, accounting, and tax services to not-for-profit organizations.

The Volunteers
Our current volunteer crew consists of Mike and Phyllis Rasnake, Fred and Jo Weaver, Mike Anderson, Mary Anderson, Adam Crary, Mike Hammond, and Dave Evans. Work at the Joseph Pines and longleaf seed harvest is coordinated by President Phil Sheridan and involves the volunteers.

H & H Forest Management, Inc.
Dan and Constance Hammond are the principals of H&H Forest Management in South Hill, Virginia. They performed their masters work at the prestigious Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center in Georgia on longleaf pine restoration. H & H Forest Management has and will perform our controlled burns, herbicide applications, and provides professional forestry consultation.

Central Virginia BMP Services, Inc.
Tom McElhorne is the principal of this company and he has successfully and competently used his skid-steer mulcher to remove young hardwoods (12 – 15 feet) and pines for longleaf restoration on our preserve. Tom also does an excellent job installing fire breaks with minimum soil disturbance.

Project Criteria
The criteria and procedures used to evaluate the relative success or failure of the project are relatively straightforward. Longleaf pine and associate rare flora planting success will be measured by percent survival one year after planting. Hardwood control will be measured qualitatively in comparing pre- and post control operations.

Literature Cited

Sheridan, P. and N. Penick. 2002. Highway rights-of-way as rare plant restoration habitat in coastal Virginia. In: The 7th International Symposium on Environmental Concerns in Rights-of-Way Management. J.W. Goodrich-Mahoney, D.F Mutrie, and C.A. Guild, eds. Elsevier Science, Oxford, England. Pp. 185-191.

Sheridan, P., J. Scrivani, N. Penick, and A. Simpson. 1999. A census of longleaf pine in Virginia. In Kush, John S. comp. Longleaf pine: a forward look, proceedings of the second Longleaf Alliance Conference; 1998 November 17-19: Charleston, SC. Longleaf Alliance Report No. 4. Pp 154-162.

Sheridan P. and D. Karowe. 2000. Inbreeding, outbreeding, and heterosis in Sarracenia flava (Sarraceniaceae) in Virginia. American Journal of Botany 87:1628-1633.


Figure 1. (view larger map)




Figure 2. (view larger map)




Figure 3. Reintroducing native Sussex County yellow pitcher plant.




Figure 4. Performing test plantings of longleaf pine in Sussex County.




Figure 5.




Figure 6.




Figure 6. Controlled burn by H&H Forest Management, Inc. of longleaf pine restoration area at Joseph Pines in 2004.




Figure. 7a. Skid-steer mulcher.





Fig. 7b. Skid-steer mulcher in action!



























© Copyright 2017 Meadowview Biological Research Station. All Rights Reserved. 
8390 Fredericksburg Turnpike
Woodford, VA 22580