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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

Table of Contents Table of Contents

Piedmont / Mountain Swamp Forests

This group contains seasonally flooded deciduous forests of backswamps and sloughs in the floodplains of northern and western Piedmont and mountain-region rivers and large streams. Communities of this group are most common in the broad, clay-rich floodplain deposits of Piedmont Mesozoic basins, but occur locally throughout the northernl and western parts of Virginia. Habitats generally have some hummock-and-hollow microtopography, with maximum flooding depths in hollows of 50 to 70 cm (20 to 28 in). Soils are usually white- or orange-mottled clay loams and loamy clays, with moderately low to moderately high base status.

Characteristic trees of these swamps include pin oak (Quercus palustris), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), willow oak (Quercus phellos), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), red maple (Acer rubrum), American elm (Ulmus americana) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). In the larger river backswamps, where flooding depths may exclude oaks, stands are usually dominated by combinations of silver maple (Acer saccharinum), red maple, and green ash. Small trees and shrubs include winterberry (Ilex verticillata), common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), and American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana ssp. caroliniana and ssp. virginiana). High-climbing woody vines, including poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans var. radicans), grapes (Vitis spp.), and trumpet-creeper (Campsis radicans), are also typical. The herb layers of these communities are quite species-rich because of microtopographic diversity, but species tolerant of seasonal inundation are prevalent, including lizard's-tail (Saururus cernuus), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), common wood reedgrass (Cinna arundinacea), winged monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus), and various sedges (e.g., Carex tribuloides var. tribuloides, Carex typhina, Carex squarrosa, Carex grayi). Large, well-developed swamp forests are somewhat uncommon in the Piedmont and rare in the mountains. Some of them have been destroyed or hydrologically altered by dams and reservoirs.

Reference: Fleming (2002a), Fleming and Patterson (2004).

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Southern water-plantain (Alisma subcordatum) in a recently drawn down, seasonally flooded slough along Cub Run in Fairfax County (Cub Run Stream Valley Park). The overstory here consists primarily of pin oak (Quercus palustris) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Photo: Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
This link opens a new browser window to display a larger photo Large colonies of common wood reedgrass (Cinna arundinacea), growing under swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) and American elm (Ulmus americana), characterize the drier, late-season aspect of this swamp along Elklick Run in Fairfax County (Fairfax County Park Authority lands). Photo: Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
This link opens a new browser window to display a larger photo Seasonally flooded backswamp along South Fork Quantico Creek at Prince William Forest Park, Prince William County. The overstory is primarily pin oak (Quercus palustris) while the dominant herbs are false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) and blunt broom sedge (Carex tribuloides var. tribuloides). Photo: Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.

Documentation of this group consists of only 18 plots, most of them from the northern Piedmont Mesozoic (Triassic) Basin and supporting the first classified community type listed below (map). This ecological group, and especially western Piedmont and montane examples, will be a priority for future work. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.
  • Quercus palustris - Quercus bicolor / Carex tribuloides - Carex radiata - (Carex squarrosa) Forest
    Piedmont / Central Appalachian Floodplain Swamp (Pin Oak - Swamp White Oak Type)
    USNVC: = CEGL006497
    Global/State Ranks: G3G4/S3?

  • Acer (rubrum, saccharinum) - Fraxinus pennsylvanica - Ulmus americana / Boehmeria cylindrica Forest
    Piedmont / Central Appalachian Floodplain Swamp (Silver Maple - Green Ash Type)
    USNVC: = CEGL006548
    Global/State Ranks: G4/S2?

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