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W. P. A. History of Pontotoc County, Mississippi

Chapter IV:  FLORA

Forest Trees

Pontotoc County, in topographical and geological situation is in three distinct soil formations:  The Pontotoc Ridge, the flatwoods, and the east Mississippi prairie region.  Each has a forest growth characteristic to the soil (See Chap. 3, Soils and Minerals).  Originally the central, or ridge, area was heavily timbered with the fine specimens of hardwood such as red, white, and post oak, hickory, walnut, chestnut, cypress , beech, ash, poplar, and other varieties that might be classed as merchantable.  The Flatwoods region to the west was likewise heavily timbered, but merchantable loblolly or shortleaf pine was the chief product; post oak and "black jack" for railroad crossties was the next profitable timber.  The prairie section to the east is sparsely timbered and the forest growth from any standpoint is of negligible consideration.

Aside from the commercial value, however, the county was known in the early days as the "beautiful country of the Chickasaw" owing to the prodigality of nature in flora, the most distinguished feature of which was the extent and majesty of its forest growth.  The era of commercial exploitation of our forest began after the War Between the States.  The Flatwoods region of virgin pine and cypress, undesirable for agricultural purposes, had remained practically untouched until their value as lumber was realized by enterprising citizens.  Concurrently the remaining hardwoods on the ridge were absorbed by timber speculators, and were cut, hauled, and shipped to foreign markets.

Only the GUM and ELMS seem to have escaped.  The quick growth of the sweet gum probably accounts for its flourishing condition.  Although it has commercial value for furniture making, no serious  efforts have been made to market it in this section.  The black gum has never been prolific here.  Though a popular variety for lawn and street shading, the elm, like the chestnut, has been attacked by an insect pest which is making serious inroads on the species.

The usual number and variety of OAKS grow in Pontotoc County, as they do in other counties.  Among the variety prevalent here are water, blackjack, red, and chestnut oaks.  The red oaks grow especially ;large in this section.  The timber is used locally for fuel bridges, construction, and crossties, etc.

Twenty years ago CHESTNUT TREES on the Pontotoc Ridge became almost extinct because so many were cut for fence rails and telegraph and telephone poles.  Later, insect pests threatened the entire destruction of the s pieces throughout the Southern Appalachian Region.  Today however the chestnut appears to have staged a "come-back" and many are seen among our forest growth.

The CEDARS, that were originally planted for yard shrubbery, were said to have been introduced to this section by the Virginia settlers.  The chinaberries and black locust are attributed to the Carolinians for a like purpose, but the honey locust seems to be native growth.  With the clearing of primeval forests these exotics have scattered and become a part of our modern growth.

The value of WALNUT, ASH, POPLAR, HICKORY, and SCALY BARK trees for merchantable timber have destroyed the more noble specimens but a few yet remain and there is an ample supply of younger growth for restocking under conservation methods.

WILLOW is plentiful along the little streams and valleys that abound in the hill section.  Beech, Maple, Ironwood, and Dogwood grow in moist places, where other forest growth gives them shaded protection from extremes of heat and cold.

The SHORTLEAF PINE is also known as yellow, rosemary and old-field pine, is widely distributed.  It occurs mixed with hardwoods and in pure second growth stands.  The young tree, in the open, has a straight and somewhat stout stem with slightly ascending branches.  In maturity the tree has a tall, straight stem and an oval crown, reaching a height of about one hundred feet.  The young tree when cut or burned back, reproduces itself by sprouting from the stump.  Once rarely seen in the ridge section, it is now grown there plentifully.


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