Common (Translated Scientific) Name: Chestnut Oak - Hickory species / American Chestnut Forest Group
Colloquial Name: Appalachian Oak / Chestnut Forest
Hierarchy Level: Group
Type Concept: This dry acidic Appalachian oak forest group includes mostly closed-canopy deciduous (oak) forests and mixed (oak-pine) forests with a variable mixture of dry-site oak and pine species. It is characterized by the occurrence of Quercus prinus and/or other oaks, typically Quercus alba, Quercus coccinea, or Quercus velutina,, often with sprouts of Castanea dentata. Pinus strobus or Pinus virginiana may be an important associate in some areas. Widespread hardwood associates include Quercus rubra, Betula lenta, Carya glabra, Nyssa sylvatica, and Sassafras albidum. Additional associated trees in parts of the group's range include Halesia tetraptera var. monticola, Liriodendron tulipifera, Magnolia acuminata, and Oxydendrum arboreum. Subcanopy, shrub, and herb layers vary, but in many cases a moderately well- to well-developed heath layer is present. Ericaceous shrubs are often common and include Kalmia latifolia, Gaylussacia baccata, Gaylussacia frondosa, Gaylussacia ursina, Vaccinium pallidum, Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium stamineum, Vaccinium arboreum, Vaccinium simulatum, Menziesia pilosa, Rhododendron calendulaceum, and Rhododendron prinophyllum. This group is centered on the ranges of Castanea dentata and Quercus prinus, ranging from central New England south through the Central Appalachian and Western Allegheny regions to the Cumberland Plateau and Southern Appalachians. The substrate is typically dry, acidic, and infertile. Elevation ranges from sea level (in the northern part of the range) to about 1500 m (in the Southern Appalachians).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Dominance of Quercus prinus (or Quercus alba or Quercus rubra at higher elevations or at the northern range limit of Quercus rubra) or presence of Castanea dentata with Quercus prinus also present (those species are differential for this group); or oak (and oak-pine) forests dominated by some combination of Quercus prinus, Quercus coccinea, Quercus velutina, and Castanea dentata (totaling >20% Relative Importance Value), with other tree species including some combination of these diagnostics: Oxydendrum arboreum, Carya glabra, Quercus alba, Quercus rubra, Betula lenta, Halesia tetraptera var. monticola, Nyssa sylvatica, Magnolia acuminata, or Sassafras albidum. Diagnostic shrub species include several with ranges centered on the Central and Southern Appalachians, such as Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron calendulaceum, Gaylussacia ursina, Ilex montana, Galax urceolata, and Menziesia pilosa. Gaylussacia baccata, Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium pallidum are diagnostic at the northern end of the range.
Rationale for Nominal Species or Physiognomic Features: This Appalachian group is centered on the ranges of Castanea dentata and Quercus prinus, hence they form the basis for its name. A stronger third nominal is needed.
Classification Comments: The distinctions between this group and North-Central Oak - Hickory Forest & Woodland Group (G649) and Northeastern Oak - Hickory Forest & Woodland Group (G650) can be challenging where the two overlap, especially since Castanea dentata, a key species for this group, is now absent or reduced over much of its range. This group encompasses somewhat drier forests with relatively infertile soils, in general, than G649 and G650. An outstanding question is the best placement for high-elevation red oak-dominated associations in the Central and Southern Appalachians (i.e., those attributed exclusively to Central and Southern Appalachian Montane Oak Forest (CES202.596)). Southern Appalachian geography led to their placement in this group, but they are more mesic than other associations herein and may be better placed in G649. When that description is written, we can compare associated woody and herbaceous species to determine the best placement, and revise this group description if they are removed.
Similar NVC Types:
G495 North Atlantic Maritime & Coastal Plain Forest, note:
G649 North-Central Oak - Hickory Forest & Woodland, note:
G650 Northeastern Oak - Hickory Forest & Woodland, note:
Physiognomy and Structure: Mostly deciduous, closed-canopy forests. Examples of these forests at higher elevations or in xeric environments often feature stunted trees in the canopy, or a more interrupted canopy. Subcanopy, shrub, and herb layers vary, but in many cases a moderately well- to well-developed heath layer is present.
Floristics: Canopy dominants include Quercus prinus, Quercus rubra, Quercus velutina, and/or Quercus alba. At higher elevations or northern range limits, Quercus rubra may be the sole dominant. Castanea dentata is often present, though not common, as sprouts and is diagnostic when it occurs with Quercus prinus. Other oaks, including Quercus coccinea or Quercus falcata, are often present at relatively lower elevations. Many forests in this group have a pine component of Pinus strobus, Pinus rigida, Pinus pungens, or Pinus virginiana, or less often Pinus echinata. Ericaceous shrubs are often common and include Kalmia latifolia, Gaylussacia spp., Vaccinium pallidum, Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium stamineum, Vaccinium arboreum, Vaccinium simulatum, Menziesia pilosa, Rhododendron calendulaceum, and Rhododendron prinophyllum.
Dynamics: At moderate to low elevations, stands are naturally stable, uneven-aged forests, with canopy dynamics generally dominated by gap-phase regeneration. Wind or ice storms may create larger canopy openings. Fire occurred fairly frequently in pre-European-settlement times, though there is some dispute whether most of the fires were natural or anthropogenic in origin (Abrams 1992, Delcourt and Delcourt 1997). Fires were usually low-intensity surface fires. Fire occurred even more frequently in post-European-settlement times, declining again in the 1900s. The dominant species are fairly fire-tolerant, making most fires non-catastrophic. Fire also can be expected to have a moderate effect on vegetation structure, producing a somewhat more open canopy and increased density of low-shrub layers than currently seen in most examples.
In the southern part of the group's range, higher-elevation examples may occur on exposed high ridges where they are subject to frequent ice storms in the winter, wind storms in the summer, and high winds throughout the year. This helps explain these forests' stunted appearance. In presettlement times, these forests are likely to have experienced lightning-caused fires every 40-60 years (Fleming et al. 2005). In some locations, fire exclusion and competing understory vegetation are a factor in poor oak regeneration, with replacement by more mesophytic species such as Acer saccharum (Fleming et al. 2005). Oak regeneration is also threatened by high levels of deer herbivory.
Environmental Description: This group occurs in temperate eastern North America, occurring on predominantly acidic substrates at a range of elevations from sea level (in the northern part of the range) to about 1500 m (in the Southern Appalachians). Topography and landscape position vary from rolling hills to steep slopes. The soils are coarse and infertile; they are typically shallow, on rocky slopes of acidic rock (shale, sandstone, other acidic igneous or metamorphic rock), but north of the glacial boundary may be on deep coarse glacial deposits as well as on shallow-to-bedrock soils.
Geographic Range: Central New England south through Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, extending through West Virginia and Virginia, and south along the Cumberland Plateau and Southern Appalachians to northern Alabama and northeastern Georgia and extreme northwestern South Carolina.
Nations: CA, US
States/Provinces: AL, CT, DC, DE, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, ON, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WV
|US Forest Service Ecoregions (2007)|
Confidence Level: Moderate
Confidence Level Comments:
Synonomy: = Appalachian Oak section (Dyer 2006)
>< Chestnut - chestnut oak - yellow poplar (Shantz and Zon 1924)
= Chestnut Oak - American Chestnut Forest Group (Faber-Langendoen and Menard 2006)
= Chestnut oak forest (NYNHP 2013u)
< Oak - Chestnut Forest Region (Braun 1950) [While a forest region is not equivalent to a forest group, the characterization of the major forest cover in this region fits the group concept.]
= Oak / Heath Forest (Fleming and Patterson 2013)
Concept Author(s): E.L. Braun (1950)
Author of Description: S.C. Gawler and L.A. Sneddon
Acknowledgements: J. Vanderhorst and R. McCoy
Version Date: 06May2015
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