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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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Piedmont Prairies

The only extant, prairie-like communities in the Virginia Piedmont are semi-natural and influenced by artificial disturbance regimes. Examples occurring in military base training areas ("impact areas") at Fort Pickett and Quantico Marine Base have been subject to frequent incendiary fires for at least 50 years; these comprise our only examples of grassland vegetation that has been shaped by random burns of a size, frequency, and intensity comparable to those of putative pre-settlement fire regimes. Similar grasslands have developed in Manassas National Battlefield Park and scattered powerline rights-of-way as the result of long-term periodic mowing. The vegetation of most sites is dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium) and indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Frequent associates include purple false-foxglove (Agalinis purpurea), purple three-awn grass (Aristida purpurascens), bushy aster (Symphyotrichum dumosum var. dumosum, = Aster dumosus var. dumosus), tick-trefoils (Desmodium spp.), bush-clovers (Lespedeza spp.), scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa var. squarrosa), narrow-leaf mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), papillose nutrush (Scleria pauciflora var. paucifolora), and goldenrods (Solidago nemoralis var. nemoralis and Solidago juncea). A number of state-rare, light-demanding species, e.g ., stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida var. rigida), Torrey's mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum torreyi), earleaf false foxglove (Agalinis auriculata), and American bluehearts (Buchnera americana), are associated with these communities, particularly on mafic soils.

Reference: Fleming (2002a), Fleming et al. (2001).

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Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), narrow-leaf mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), and early goldenrod (Solidago juncea) in an artificially maintained prairie at Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William County. Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
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Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida var. rigida) in prairie-like vegetation of an old field on diabase, near Nokesville, Prince William County. Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.

Plot data have been collected from six of the most "natural" stands, all located in the northern Piedmont. Composition of stands at Fort Pickett and in more disturbed sites such as powerline rights-of-way appears to be remarkably consistent with the existing plot data. Because of its semi-natural status, vegetation in this group is not a high priority for future work. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.

  • Schizachyrium scoparium - Sorghastrum nutans - Solidago juncea - Pycnanthemum tenuifolium Herbaceous Vegetation
    Little Bluestem - Indian-Grass Piedmont Prairie
    USNVC: = CEGL006572
    Global/State Ranks: GNR/SU

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