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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 / Coastal Plain Oak - Beech / Heath Forests

In Virginia, forests of this group are widely but locally distributed in small to occasionally large patches across much of the Piedmont and dissected, inner Coastal Plain. Similar forests are known from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland. Typical habitats are submesic, usually north-facing bluffs, and steep ravine slopes with acidic, nutrient-poor soils. Over most of the state, white oak (Quercus alba), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), chestnut oak (Quercus montana, = Quercus prinus), and American beech (Fagus grandifolia) are the major overstory trees. In the southeastern Virginia Coastal Plain, southern red oak (Quercus falcata) and water oak (Quercus nigra) are prominent. Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and sweet birch (Betula lenta var. lenta) are occasional associates in the Piedmont. Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), red maple (Acer rubrum), American holly (Ilex opaca var. opaca) and, in southeastern Virginia, common sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria) are common understory trees. Dense colonies of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) or, very locally, great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) form a continuous shrub layer. Few herbaceous species occur in the stands. On very steep and rocky bluffs, tree canopies may be quite open as the result of poor establishment and frequent downfalls. Communities in this group are similar to Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forests but usually occupy drier, steeper sites that support fewer mesophytic plants and a greater abundance of heaths.

References: Fleming (2002a), Walton et al. (2001).

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American beech (Fagus grandifolia), white oak (Quercus alba), and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) on a densely wooded bluff along the Rivanna River in Fluvanna County. Photo: © Gary P. Fleming.
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Dense oak - beech / heath stand on a bluff near North Branch Chopawamsic Creek, Prince William Forest Park, Prince William County.Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.


Two geographically discrete community types have been classified based no regional analyses of data from 38 plot samples (map). Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.

  • Fagus grandifolia - Quercus (alba, velutina, montana ) / Kalmia latifolia Forest
    Northern Coastal Plain / Piedmont Oak - Beech / Heath Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL006919
    Global/State Ranks: G4/S3

  • Fagus grandifolia - Quercus alba / Oxydendrum arboreum - Symplocos tinctoria / Kalmia latifolia / (Galax urceolata) Forest
    Southern Coastal Plain Oak - Beech / Heath Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL004539
    Global/State Ranks: G2G3/S2?

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