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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

Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forests

In Virginia, these coniferous forests are confined to saturated, oligotrophic, Coastal Plain peatlands. Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forests are endemic to terraces of the Embayed Region of extreme southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Habitats are non-riverine wetland flats with deep organic soils (e.g., Great Dismal Swamp, Cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake) and remote peat flats beyond the range of wind-tidal flooding along the North Landing River (City of Virginia Beach). Atlantic white-cedar forests usually occupy relatively wet peatlands subject to infrequent catastrophic fires. Dense, even-aged stands become established when such fires remove most vegetation and debris, exposing suitable seedbeds. Throughout their maturation, these stands accumulate extensive dead wood and inflammable duff, making them increasingly susceptible to another stand-killing fire. Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) dominates the overstory, sometimes with red maple (Acer rubrum), swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora), or pines (Pinus serotina and Pinus taeda) as minor associates. Red bay (Persea palustris), sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), big gallberry (Ilex coriacea), inkberry (Ilex glabra), shining fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans var. radicans) are common small trees and shrubs. Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum var. cinnamomeum) and Virginia chain fern (Woodwardia virginica) are common herbs, while (Sphagnum spp.) and other mosses abundantly cover the ground.

Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forests are floristically similar to both Pond Pine Woodlands and Pocosins and Streamhead Pocosins. They differ from both in overstory dominance and lower shrub density, and an association with large peatlands that formerly were subject to catastrophic fires at long return intervals. Peatland Atlantic white-cedar forests are globally rare and now reduced to small remnants of their former distribution by extensive logging and fire reduction. Because of these disturbances and extensive ditching, many former stands in the Great Dismal Swamp have been converted to Non-Riverine Swamp Forests dominated by red maple and swamp tupelo. Atlantic white-cedar is the larval host of the rare butterfly Hessel's hairstreak (Mitoura hesseli), which has been recorded in the Great Dismal Swamp.

References: Dabel and Day (1977), Day (1985), Dean (1969), Fleming and Moorhead (1998), Frost (1995), Stevens and Patterson (1998), Train and Day (1982).

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Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest (with dark conical crowns) occupies slightly elevated peat flats just beyond the limits of wind-tidal flooding along the east side of the North Landing River near Creeds, City of Virginia Beach. Photo: Caren Caljouw.
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Most Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forests in the North Landing River basin originated as even-aged stands following catastrophic fires about 75 to 80 years ago. Most larger trees in these stands are now 40 to 45 cm (16 to 18 in) in diameter. Photo: Irvine Wilson / © DCR Natural Heritage.

The classification of a single community type in this group was based on only four plots from the Great Dismal Swamp (2) and North Landing River (2) (map). Additional data, particularly from the North Landing River stands, would be desirable to ensure that the full range of compositional variation in Virginia has been captured. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.

  • Chamaecyparis thyoides / Lyonia lucida - Ilex coriacea / Osmundastrum cinnamomeum Forest
    Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL006146
    Global/State Ranks: G2/S1

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