Common (Translated Scientific) Name: Red Spruce - (Fraser Fir) / Southern Mountain Cranberry / Mountain Woodfern / Splendid Feathermoss Forest
Colloquial Name: Red Spruce - Fraser Fir Forest (Deciduous Shrub Type)
Hierarchy Level: Association
Type Concept: This community is restricted to the highest mountain systems of the Southern and Central Appalachians in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia, with disjunct northern outliers on the summits of the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. It is found on all topographic positions and is best developed between 1680 and 1990 m (5500-6200 feet) elevation. In West Virginia, it occurs on ridgetops at elevations above 1350 m (4400 feet), and at lower elevation (1140 m) in a cold streambottom. This association includes forests of the Southern and Central Appalachians, primarily within the range of Abies fraseri, dominated by Picea rubens, with or without Abies fraseri, occurring over deciduous shrubs, herbs and bryophytes. This community has a characteristic understory of Southern Appalachian endemic species and a conspicuous bryophyte layer. The tree canopy may have standing dead stems of Abies fraseri and extensive patches of Abies fraseri seedlings in canopy gaps. Characteristic species include Sorbus americana, Acer spicatum, Viburnum lantanoides, Athyrium filix-femina ssp. asplenioides, Eurybia chlorolepis, Rugelia nudicaulis, Houstonia serpyllifolia, Solidago glomerata, Ptilium crista-castrensis, and Bazzania trilobata.
Diagnostic Characteristics: No Data Available
Rationale for Nominal Species or Physiognomic Features:
Classification Comments: West Virginia stands assigned here (2009) differ from Picea rubens / Betula alleghaniensis / Bazzania trilobata Forest (CEGL008501) (the "core" red spruce in WV) in their position at the highest elevations and thereby experiencing the coldest temperatures. Significant indicators that differentiate this type from WV's "core" red spruce are Vaccinium erythrocarpum and Dryopteris campyloptera. Abies fraseri is not native in West Virginia, and Abies balsamea is not usually associated with upland spruce communities. Thirteen plots in three counties represent this type in West Virginia. An occurrence on the edge of the Ridge and Valley Province in southwestern Virginia occurs over sandstone on Clinch Mountain.
Similar NVC Types:
Abies fraseri / Viburnum lantanoides / Dryopteris campyloptera - Oxalis montana / Hylocomium splendens Forest, note:
Picea rubens / Betula alleghaniensis / Bazzania trilobata Forest, note: is the dominant red spruce forest type within West Virginia; stands interfinger at the highest elevations in West Virginia.
Picea rubens - (Tsuga canadensis) / Rhododendron maximum Forest, note:
Abies fraseri / (Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron carolinianum) Forest, note:
Picea rubens - (Abies fraseri) / (Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron maximum) Forest, note: is a similar forest that has a shrub stratum dominated by evergreen species and occurs on less mesic sites than the one described here. Similar forests occur in the Central and Northern Appalachians, but have Abies balsamea as the fir component and less dense herb and bryophyte cover (Oosting and Billings 1951, Whittaker 1956, Crandall 1958).
Physiognomy and Structure: No Data Available
Floristics: These forests are dominated by needle-leaved evergreen trees and have a characteristic understory of Southern Appalachian endemic species and a conspicuous bryophyte layer. Canopies are dominated by Picea rubens, with or without Abies fraseri, sometimes with lesser amounts of Betula alleghaniensis and Sorbus americana. The subcanopy contains canopy species as well as Acer spicatum and Amelanchier laevis. The shrub strata are dominated by deciduous species and can be sparse to dense. Typical shrub species include Viburnum lantanoides, Vaccinium erythrocarpum, Vaccinium simulatum, Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa (= Sambucus racemosa var. pubens), Rubus allegheniensis, Ilex montana, Rhododendron catawbiense, and Rubus canadensis. Extensive patches of Abies fraseri seedlings and standing dead stems of Abies fraseri are common. Herb density can be high but is inversely related to the density of the shrub layer. Common herbaceous species include Oxalis montana, Athyrium filix-femina ssp. asplenioides, Dryopteris campyloptera, and Clintonia borealis. Other herbs include Oclemena acuminata (= Aster acuminatus), Eurybia chlorolepis (= Aster chlorolepis), Carex gynandra, Carex pensylvanica, Chelone lyonii, Circaea alpina ssp. alpina, Houstonia serpyllifolia, Huperzia lucidula, Maianthemum canadense, Rugelia nudicaulis, Solidago glomerata, Streptopus lanceolatus var. roseus (= Streptopus roseus var. roseus), and Viola macloskeyi ssp. pallens. Bryophytes and lichens make up a considerable percent of the vegetative coverage in this community, occurring on the surface of the soil, trees, and fallen logs. Characteristic nonvascular species include Hylocomium splendens, Ptilium crista-castrensis, Leptodontium excelsum, Bazzania trilobata, Bazzania nudicaulis, Alectoria fallacina, Hypotrachyna virginica, Dicranum scoparium, and Dicranum fuscescens. Disjunct, outlier stands on summits in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia lack Abies and exhibit a dense canopy of Picea rubens, with a sparse to dense understory of Vaccinium erythrocarpum, on a luxuriant carpet of Bazzania trilobata and mosses. In Virginia, the rare plants Abies fraseri, Cardamine clematitis, and Prenanthes roanensis are minor components of this community.
Canopy structure and composition are fairly uniform, but understory composition changes continuously along a moisture gradient. Whittaker (1956) described five variations of the understory of Red Spruce - Fraser Fir Forests: (1) Valley subtype: moss, Oxalis, and low shrub cover <5%, high herb cover 30% and high shrub cover 20%; (2) North slopes and flats: moss and Oxalis cover 25-55%, low and high shrub cover 5-20%, high herb strata is dominated by Dryopteris with other mesic herbs; (3) Intermediate east- and west-facing slopes: moss, Oxalis and fern cover 15-30%, low and high shrub cover 5-10%; (4) South slope subtype: all five strata are <10% cover; and (5) Ridge and steep upper slope: rhododendron heath approaches full coverage of understory.
Dynamics: Natural disturbances in this community include lightning fire, debris avalanches, wind disturbance, and ice storms (White and Pickett 1985, Nicholas and Zedaker 1989). The natural fire regime is estimated at longer than 500-1000 years. Stand-replacing fires may affect large-patch sizes but occur rarely, at 300- to 1000-year intervals; wind events are likely at more frequent intervals of 100 to 200 years (Gorman 2007). Human-initiated disturbances have included logging, slash fires, livestock grazing, and atmospheric pollutants. An exotic insect, the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), invaded the Southern Appalachians in the late 1950s and has drastically altered the last undisturbed remnants of this community. This exotic pest kills mature Abies fraseri within seven years of infestation. In areas where mature Abies fraseri has been lost to woolly adelgid infestation, thickets of Rubus spp., Abies fraseri seedlings and saplings, Betula alleghaniensis, and Sorbus americana are dominant. Over time, Picea rubens, Betula alleghaniensis, Abies fraseri, Acer spicatum, and Sorbus americana increase in the tree layer, while Abies fraseri, Menziesia pilosa, Rubus idaeus ssp. strigosus, and Sambucus racemosa var. pubens increase in the shrub layer (White et al. 1993). Succession is especially slow after severe disturbance such as logging and slash fires. The most severely disturbed sites are predominately Prunus pensylvanica and Rubus spp. and may remain in a non-forested stage of succession for 60 years or more.
Environmental Description: Over much of its range, this forest community reaches its best development between 1680 and 1990 m (5500-6200 feet) elevation, but it is also found at somewhat lower elevations. Stands occur on all topographic positions. Soils are highly variable, from deep mineral soils to well-developed boulderfields, where a thin organic layer and moss mat overlie the rocks, and there are pockets of mineral soil in deep crevices between boulders. The dominant soils are Inceptisols with scattered occurrences of Spodosols at the highest elevations. Generally, soils are shallow and rocky, with well-developed organic and A horizons. All soils in these high-elevation forests are low in base saturation, high in organic matter, and are acidic in reaction (pH 3.0-5.0), with high aluminum content. The moisture regimes of these areas are mesic to wet due to high rainfall, abundant cloud cover, fog deposition, and low temperatures. The climate has been classified as perhumid, with the temperature varying elevationally from mesothermal to microthermal. The regional geology is dominated by complexly folded metamorphic, sedimentary, and igneous rocks of Precambrian and early Paleozoic age, including phyllites, slates, schists, sandstones, quartzites, granites, and gneisses. The disjunct, outlier stands in the Allegheny Mountains occur only at the very highest elevations in the coldest climate niche in the state, on Pennsylvanian sandstone.
Geographic Range: This community is restricted to the highest mountain systems of the Southern Appalachians in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia, with northern outliers on the summits of West Virginia.
States/Provinces: NC, TN, VA, WV
|US Forest Service Ecoregions (1994/1995)|
Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest - Coniferous Forest - Meadow Province
Confident or certain
Northern Ridge and Valley Section
Confident or certain
|US Forest Service Ecoregions (2007)|
Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest - Coniferous Forest - Meadow Province
Confident or certain
Northern Ridge and Valley Section
Confident or certain
Confidence Level: Moderate
Confidence Level Comments:
Greasons: This community is restricted to the highest mountain systems of the Southern Appalachians in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia, with outliers in the highest elevations in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. It has a naturally restricted distribution and has been subject to major acreage reduction during the early part of the 20th century and rapid condition decline in the past 30 years. Modern threats include atmospheric pollution deposition and damage by the exotic balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae). Well-developed, undisturbed examples of this community are extremely rare.
Concept Lineage: merged
Synonomy: = Picea rubens / Vaccinium erythrocarpum / Dryopteris campyloptera Forest [Red Spruce - Southern Mountain Cranberry Forest] (Vanderhorst 2015)
= Picea rubens / Viburnum lantanoides - Vaccinium erythrocarpum / Huperzia lucidula - Clintonia borealis Forest (Fleming and Coulling 2001)
< IA4a. Red Spruce - Fraser Fir Forest (Allard 1990)
? Oligotrophic Forest (Rawinski 1992)
? Red Spruce - Fraser Fir (7) (USFS 1988)
< Red Spruce - Fraser Fir: 34 (Eyre 1980)
? Spruce Community (Rheinhardt and Ware 1984)
Concept Author(s): K.D. Patterson
Author of Description: K.D. Patterson, M. Pyne and E.A. Byers
Version Date: 01Jun2009
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