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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 Upland Forests

This group contains species-poor evergreen and mixed coastal forests of sheltered, oceanside and bayside dunes and sand flats generally protected from salt spray. Similar forests occur along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Delaware to Texas.

Pine-dominated maritime forests are distributed along the length of the outer Coastal Plain maritime zone and barrier islands in Virginia, including the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Soils in these habitats often accumulate thick duff layers up to 15 cm (6 in) thick, which may be the result of a suppressed fire regime in some stands. The upper mineral soil horizon is dark sand or very sandy clay, and the water table may be relatively close to the surface. Forest overstories vary from nearly pure loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), to mixtures of pine, black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina), southern red oak (Quercus falcata), black oak (Quercus velutina), willow oak (Quercus phellos), and occasionally other hardwoods. These stands have sparse to dense understories of red maple (Acer rubrum), black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Shrubs, which vary greatly in cover, include wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) and highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium formosum, and Vaccinium fuscatum). Muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia var. rotundifolia) and greenbriers (Smilax rotundifolia) and Smilax bona-nox) are quite common throughout. Although the overstory and shrub strata can be quite dense, the herb layer is usually sparse and floristically depauperate. Slender spikegrass (Chasmanthium laxum) is one of the few herbaceous plants that may be abundant.

Maritime forests dominated by deciduous trees are concentrated on sheltered back dunes of Cape Henry in southeastern Virginia (City of Virginia Beach). Habitats are most frequently located on the leeward slopes of bay-side dunes or old dunes well removed from salt spray and winds. Soils are well drained to rapidly drained, nutrient-poor sands and sandy loams. Overstories contain variable mixtures of southern red oak (Quercus falcata), water oak (Quercus nigra), post oak (Quercus stellata), hickories (Carya glabra, Carya pallida and Carya tomentosa), and black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina), with some loblolly pine usually present. Understory layers of drier stands may be very sparse, while more mesic stands often contain American holly (Ilex opaca var. opaca), common sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria), wild olive (Osmanthus americanus), American beauty-berry (Callicarpa americana), and "bay" species such as wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) and red bay (Persea palustris). The herb layer is often covered with dense tangles of common greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) and muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia var. rotundifolia); true herbs are typically sparse.

Mixed coastal forests with a prominent component of broadleaf evergreen trees reach their northernmost limits along the southeastern Virginia coast, where they are confined to areas on and near False Cape and Cape Henry (City of Virginia Beach). Habitats are back dunes and the leeward sides of stabilized dunes that are protected from the ocean salt spray. Live oak (Quercus virginiana) is the dominant species in mixtures with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), and rarely, sand laurel oak (Quercus hemisphaerica var. hemisphaerica), and black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina). Characteristic understory plants include poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans var. radicans), common greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), American holly (Ilex opaca var. opaca), yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), and highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium formosum, and Vaccinium fuscatum). Ground cover is sparse, consisting of a thin layer of dry leathery oak leaves and scattered forbs such as yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and grass-leaved golden-aster (Pityopsis graminifolia var. latifolia), as well as slender spikegrass. In Virginia, two state-rare moths, the orange panopoda (Panopoda repanda) and the owlet (noctuid) moth (Metria amella) , feed on live oak in this community.

All community types in this group are considered globally rare because of restricted ranges, narrow habitat requirements, and threats from coastal development.

References: Clampitt (1991), Harvill (1967), Levy (1983), The Nature Conservancy (1997).

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Maritime forest dominated by loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), and slender spike-grass (Chasmanthium laxum). False Cape State Park, City of Virginia Beach. Photo © Gary P. Fleming.
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Gnarled live oaks (Quercus virginiana) in a South Atlantic Maritime Evergreen Forest at False Cape State Park, City of Virginia Beach.Photo: © Gary P. Fleming.
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Dry, open forest of southern red oak (Quercus falcata), water oak (Quercus nigra), and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), on back dunes near Cape Henry, City of Virginia Beach (First Landing / Seashore State Park).Photo: Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.

Data have been collected from 51 plots of this vegetation group at various localities in the outer Coastal Plain maritime zone (map). The three community types below have been classified through a state-wide analysis of maritime forest and woodland data, and consultation with NatureServe regional ecologists and Natural Heritage ecologists in North Carolina and Maryland. Click on any highlighted CEGL code below to view the global USNVC description provided by NatureServe Explorer.
  • Pinus taeda - (Quercus falcata, Prunus serotina) / Morella cerifera / Vitis rotundifolia Forest
    Maritime Loblolly Pine Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL006040
    Global/State Ranks: G2/S2

  • Quercus nigra - Pinus taeda - Carya pallida - (Fagus grandifolia) / Symplocos tinctoria / Gelsemium sempervirens Forest
    Maritime Mixed Deciduous Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL007540
    Global/State Ranks: G1/S1

  • Quercus virginiana - Pinus taeda Forest
    Maritime Live Oak Forest
    USNVC: = CEGL007027
    Global/State Ranks: G2/S1

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