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Restoring Aristida stricta to Pinus palustris Ecosystems on the Atlantic Coastal Plain, U.S.A.



Aristida stricta (wiregrass), a perennial bunchgrass, quickly accumulates dead leaves, which along with the shed needles of Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) provide the fuel for frequent surface fires. Thus, historically, wiregrass played a key role in many longleaf communities where it significantly influenced the natural fire regime and thereby the composition of the plant community. Reestablishment of wiregrass is, therefore, critical to restoring the native understory of Atlantic Coastal Plain longleaf pine ecosystems. This study measured the effects of different site preparations and fertilizer application on the survival and growth of wiregrass seedlings. Two-month–old seedlings were underplanted in existing longleaf pine stands on dry Lakeland soils at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Survival was acceptable at 51% after four years, although reduced owing to drought and small seedling size. Survival and growth could both be increased by using older seedlings with an initial height of at least 6 cm. Wiregrass leaves grew quite rapidly and attained an average length of 48 cm in four years on control plots. Basal area growth rate was greater than expected, averaging 40% on control treatments and 55% on cultivated and fertilized plots. If growth rates during the first four seasons continue, wiregrass will attain mature size on cultivated and fertilized plots at six years, while non-fertilized control plots will take eight years. A planting density of one seedling per m2 is recommended to provide sufficient wiregrass foliar cover to influence fire regimes in a reasonable length of time (i.e., 5–7 years).