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The Natural Communities of Virginia
Classification of Ecological Community Groups

Second Approximation (Version 2.7)
Information current as of February, 2016

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Salt Flats

Also known as "salt pannes," Salt Flats represent communities of regularly to irregularly tidal, sparsely to sometimes densely vegetated depressions and flats. Tidal salt flats occur on the Atlantic coast from Maine to North Carolina. Typically occurring as small patches within a matrix of mesohaline or polyhaline marsh, these habitats accumulate salt through evaporation of diurnal flooding inputs. Hyperhaline salt flats often contain large areas of barren, compacted peat and support only a scattering of saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) and the most salt-tolerant perennial and annual, succulent halophytes: glassworts (Sarcocornia pacifica, Salicornia virginica, and Salicornia bigelovii), salt-marsh sand spurry (Spergularia salina), tall sea-blite (Suaeda linearis), and sea lavender (Limonium carolinianum). Occasional occurrences contain dense stands of mixed glassworts. Stunted saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) usually forms a narrow ecotone between the flat and surrounding marsh. Several algae are also characteristic associates. In Virginia, salt flat communities are best represented on the Eastern Shore (Accomack and Northampton Counties), where they occur frequently within the very large, Atlantic shore salt marshes.

References: Clovis (1968), Coulling (2002), Levy (1983), The Nature Conservancy (1997).

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Dwarf shrubland of jointed glasswort (Salicornia virginica) in a salt panne on Hog Island, Northampton County. Photo: Chris Clampitt / © DCR Natural Heritage.
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A remarkable Eastern Shore salt flat containing a 4-ha (10-acre), dense monoculture of glassworts (Salicornia virginica and S. bigelovii). Near Steelman's Landing, east of Townsend, Northampton County. Photo: Tom Rawinski / © DCR Natural Heritage.


Although salt flats are widespread and locally extensive on the Eastern Shore, only seven stands have been quantitatively sampled (map). Additional data collection is needed to document the range of compositional variation in the group. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.

  • (Salicornia virginica, Salicornia bigelovii, Sarcocornia pacifica) Herbaceous Vegetation
    Glasswort Salt Flat
    USNVC: = CEGL004308
    Global/State Ranks: G5/S3

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