Loblolly Pine Savannas
These coniferous woodlands are now nearly confined to military base training areas ("impact areas") that have been subject to frequent incendiary fires for at least 50 years. In Virginia, communities of this group cover hundreds of hectares at Fort A.P. Hill in the northern Coastal Plain (Caroline County) and Fort Pickett in the southern Piedmont (Dinwiddie and Nottoway Counties). Loblolly pine savannas are also being restored through selective cutting and prescribed burning at The Nature Conservancy's Piney Grove Preserve in Sussex County. Habitats at all three sites are rolling uplands with sandy, oligotrophic soils. Stand structure is typically savanna-like, with open or semi-closed overstories, sparse understories, and dense graminoid-dominated herb layers. Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is the overwhelmingly dominant tree, with only scattered oak (Quercus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.) associates. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), broomsedges (Andropogon virginicus var. virginicus, Andropogon ternarius, and Andropogon gyrans), and silver plume grass (Saccharum alopecuroides) are dominant grasses. A variety of tick-trefoils (Desmodium spp.), bushclovers (Lespedeza spp.), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), thoroughworts (Eupatorium spp.), asters (Symphyotrichum spp., = Aster spp.) and other composites are common forb associates.
Loblolly pine savannas at both military bases provide the only viable habitats in Virginia for the globally and state-rare Bachman's Sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis), while the Piney Grove Preserve supports the state's last viable population of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Although communities of this group are strongly influenced by an artificial disturbance regime and probably originated through old-field succession, they might be comparable to successional vegetation that occurred more widely outside the range of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) under more natural pre-Columbian fire regimes. Despite their successional status in the contemporary landscape, loblolly pine savannas provides crucial habitat for rare species in the absence of longleaf pine, and are therefore worthy targets for conservation and management.Reference: Fleming (2002a), Maxwell (1910).
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Covering hundreds of hectares, Loblolly Pine Savannas at Fort Picket Military Reservation are maintained by a regime of frequent but random incendiary fires that result from military training. Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
Frequently burned savanna-like, woodland dominated by loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Fort Pickett Military Reservation, Dinwiddie County. Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.
Silver plume grass (Saccharum alopecuroides) dominates the tall herb layer in a Loblolly Pine Savanna at Fort A.P. Hill Military Reservation, Caroline County. Gary P. Fleming / © DCR Natural Heritage.