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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

Maritime Dune Scrub

The shrublands of this group occupy somewhat protected maritime back dunes and leeward dune slopes, generally along the inland edges of dune systems in zones sheltered from constant ocean salt spray. Maritime Dune Scrub occurs along the Atlantic coast of the United States from New Jersey south to Florida. The vegetation is characterized by several tree, shrub and dwarf shrub species. Dominant scrubby species include northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), live oak (Quercus virginiana, southeastern Virginia only), common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina). On the northern seacoast of Virginia, high-tide bush (Baccharis halimifolia) is also sometimes characteristic. Many woody species are significantly stunted in this habitat and, like the live oak, are often much broader than tall. Few herbaceous species are present under the shrub canopy, but occasional gaps support most of the species found in the dune grasslands.

On some high, remnant dunes and areas of dune blowouts, the dwarf shrub sand heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) forms an assemblage with seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens var. sempervirens), bitter seabeach grass (Panicum amarum var. amarum), Gray's flatsedge (Cyperus grayi), and beach pinweed (Lechea maritimavar. virginica). This community type, present on Assateague Island, Parramore Island, and the southeastern Virginia coast, often occurs in a mosaic with maritime dune woodlands. Maritime shrublands are threatened by coastal development and by natural and anthropogenic disturbances that destroy the protective primary dune system.

References: Clovis (1968), The Nature Conservancy (1997).

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Low, mounded live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are the characteristic woody species of maritime dune scrub on False Cape, City of Virginia Beach (False Cape State Park). Photo: Gary P. Fleming.
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Northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) and beach panic grass (Panicum amarum var. amarulum) dominate dune scrub at False Cape State Park, City of Virginia Beach. Photo: Tom Rawinski / © DCR Natural Heritage.
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Dense northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) scrub with scattered, wind-pruned black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina) trees at the southern tip of the Eastern Shore in Northampton County (Fisherman's Island National Wildlife Refuge). Photo: Irvine Wilson / © DCR Natural Heritage.
This link opens a new browser window to display a larger photo Dwarf shrubland of sand heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) on a back dune blow-out at Picketts Harbor in Northampton County. A tall, dense shrubland dominated by northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) occupies the stabilized dune in the background. Photo: Tom Rawinski / © DCR Natural Heritage.

Data have been collected from 25 plots at various coastal sites in Virginia (map), and a state-wide analysis of dune vegetation was undertaken by DCR-DNH ecologists in 2011. It is apparent from the results that the three USNVC associations below are well represented in Virginia. Future analysis, however, may result in modification of the state names for these communities.Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.
  • Morella pensylvanica - (Prunus serotina, Diospyros virginiana) / Solidago sempervirens Shrubland
    Northern Bayberry Dune Scrub
    USNVC: = CEGL003881
    Global/State Ranks: G2/S2?

  • Quercus virginiana - (Morella pensylvanica) Shrubland
    Live Oak Dune Scrub
    USNVC: = CEGL003833
    Global/State Ranks: G3/S1

  • Hudsonia tomentosa / Cyperus grayi Dwarf-Shrubland
    Sand Heather Dwarf Dune Scrub
    USNVC: = CEGL003950
    Global/State Ranks: G2G3/S2?

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