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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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Maritime Dune Woodlands

These deciduous, coniferous, and broadleaf evergreen woodlands occur on back dunes protected from regular salt spray. Similar communities occur along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from New Jersey to Texas. Compared to maritime upland forests, these woodlands are more localized and restricted to xeric dune systems. Habitats are commonly on convex, rapidly drained dunes and less frequently on xeric sand flats. Floristic composition of communities in this group varies considerably with geography. Along the southeastern Virginia coast (City of Virginia Beach), live oak (Quercus virginiana), bluejack oak (Quercus incana), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) dominate stands, with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina) and hercules'-club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) as less abundant associates. In the same area, and northward on the Eastern Shore (Accomack and Northampton Counties), a community type of widely spaced loblolly pine with scattered, scrubby oaks (e.g ., (Quercus nigra and Quercus falcata), dwarf-shrub patches of sand heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), and large areas of exposed sand occurs on the highest back-dune systems. Another xeric back-dune community dominated by black cherry, prickly-pear (Opuntia humifusa var. humifusa), and seaside little bluestem (Schizachyrium littorale), = Schizachyrium scoparium ssp. littorale) has been documented at two Eastern Shore locations. Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana var. virginiana) dominates scattered dune woodlands on the maritime barrier islands of the Eastern Shore. Scattered herbaceous plants that occur in these woodlands include sea-beach needlegrass (Aristida tuberculosa), cottony golden-aster (Chrysopsis gossypina), yellow thistle (Cirsium horridulum var. horridulum), oval flowered panic grass (Dichanthelium ovale var. ovale), coastal bedstraw (Galium hispidulum), Canada frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense), woolly ragwort (Packera tomentosa, = Senecio tomentosa), dune ground-cherry (Physalis walteri), coastal jointweed (Polygonella articulata), and grass-leaved golden-aster (Pityopsis graminifolia var. latifolia). All communities in this group are considered globally and state rare.

References: Clampitt (1991), The Nature Conservancy (1997).

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Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)-dominated, bay-side dune woodland at Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve on the Virginia Eastern Shore (Northampton County). Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
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Xeric back-dune woodland dominated by black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina ), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera ), and seaside little bluestem (Schizachyrium littorale). Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge, Accomack County. Photo: Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
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Gnarled woodland of live oak (Quercus virginiana) and bluejack oak (Quercus incana) on back dunes at Cape Henry, City of Virginia Beach (First Landing/Seashore State Park). Photo © Gary P. Fleming.
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Sand heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) in a dune woodland at False Cape State Park, City of Virginia Beach. Photo © Gary P. Fleming.

Data have been collected from 25 plots of this group in the outer Coastal Plain maritime zone (map), and classified in a state-wide analysis of maritime forests and woodlands. Collection of additional data will likely be undertaken to make the circumscriptions of the four classified types more robust. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.
  • Quercus virginiana - Quercus incana Woodland
    Live Oak - Bluejack Oak Dune Woodland
    USNVC: = CEGL003750
    Global/State Ranks: G1/S1

  • Pinus taeda / Hudsonia tomentosa Woodland
    Loblolly Pine / Sand Heather Dune Woodland
    USNVC: = CEGL006052
    Global/State Ranks: G1G2/S1S2

  • Prunus serotina / Smilax rotundifolia / Schizachyrium littorale Woodland
    Black Cherry Xeric Dune Woodland
    USNVC: < CEGL006319
    Global/State Ranks: G1G2/S1

  • Juniperus virginiana / Morella pensylvanica Woodland
    Maritime Eastern Red Cedar Dune Woodland
    USNVC: = CEGL006212
    Global/State Ranks: G2/S1?

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