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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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Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forests

These mixed hardwood forests are widespread in mesic to submesic, infertile habitats throughout the Coastal Plain and Piedmont, and rarely at low elevations in the mountains. Forests in this group occupy mesic uplands, ravines, lower slopes, and well-drained "flatwoods" on deep acidic, relatively nutrient-poor soils. The most typical overstories contain mixtures of American beech (Fagus grandifolia), oaks (Quercus spp., varying by region), tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and hickories (Carya spp.), but a wide variety of hardwood associates occur. American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana ssp. caroliniana and ssp. virginiana), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), American strawberry-bush (Euonymus americanus) and, in eastern Virginia, American holly (Ilex opaca var. opaca) are prominent understory plants. In mesic "flatwoods" of the southeastern Virginia Coastal Plain, silky camellia (Stewartia malacodendron) and big-leaf snowbell (Styrax grandifolius) are characteristic small trees. These communities lack the lush herbaceous layers of Basic Mesic Forests, although species such as Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), New York fern (Parathelypteris noveboracensis), and white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata, = Aster divaricatus) may form moderately dense populations. Along with Chistmas fern, downy rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera pubescens), Virginia heartleaf (Hexastylis virginica), and partridge-berry (Mitchella repens) are frequent evergreen herbs in mesic mixed hardwood forests. The name "Southern Mixed Hardwood Forest" has been applied to some Coastal Plain representatives of this group. Although mesic mixed hardwood forests still cover sizeable areas east of the mountains in Virginia, their extent and compositional integrity have been reduced by repeated logging.

References: Abrams and Copenheaver (1999), Adams et al. (2003), Coulling (1999), Crouch (1990), DeWitt and Ware (1979), Fleming (2002a), Fleming (2002b), Fleming et al. (2007), Frost and Musselman (1987), McCoy and Fleming (2000), Monette and Ware (1983), Plunkett and Hall (1995), Walton et al. (2001), Ware (1970), Ware (1978), Ware (1991), Wolff and Ware (1994).

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The evergreen Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides, in foreground) is one of the most characteristic and abundant herbs of mesic mixed hardwood forests. Riverbend Park, Fairfax County. Photo: Gary P. Fleming
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American beech (Fagus grandifolia), American holly (Ilex opaca), and white oak (Quercus alba) in a southern Piedmont Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest. Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield County. Photo: Gary P. Fleming.


This group is represented by more than 160 quantitative plot samples (map), most of them supporting the first of the two classified types. Representatives of this group in the Embayed Region, although clearly distinct, need more documentation. The Northern Coastal Plain / Piedmont Type encompasses some compositional variation related to geography, as well as a considerable gradient in apparent site moisture potential, from that of very mesic ravine bottoms to that of submesic, convex upper slopes and crests. Nevertheless, attempts to split this unit into two or more types or subtypes have proven difficult to justify on the basis of floristic composition, despite the availability of ample quantitative data. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.

  • Fagus grandifolia - Quercus (alba, rubra) - Liriodendron tulipifera / (Ilex opaca) / Polystichum acrostichoides Forest
    Northern Coastal Plain / Piedmont Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL006075
    Global/State Ranks: G5/S5

    Fagus grandifolia - Quercus (alba, nigra, michauxii ) / Symplocos tinctoria - (Stewartia malacodendron) Forest
    Southern Coastal Plain Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest
    USNVC: ~ CEGL007211
    Global/State Ranks: G3/S2S3

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