This formerly common open woodland vegetation, of which only about 5% remains, is found in the coastal plains of the southeastern United States, and is dominated by Pinus palustris or Pinus clausa in parts of central Florida.
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Longleaf Pine / Pineland Three-awn Woodland Macrogroup
Longleaf Pine Woodland
This woodland vegetation is found in the coastal plains of the southeastern United States from Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas. It is dominated primarily by Pinus palustris, but stands of Pinus clausa in parts of central Florida are also included here. Until the mid-nineteenth century, most of the wooded Southeastern Coastal Plain consisted of this vegetation. The original longleaf ecosystems of the southeastern United States were generally bi-layered communities with the physiognomy maintained by frequent, low-intensity surface fires that removed most small woody plants and thereby kept the canopy open. However, this obscures the remarkable floristic diversity of these systems. This vegetation covers both a large geographic range and a wide latitude of hydrological variation, from very dry to very wet. The components of the understory and ground layer vary greatly across this range of biogeography and hydrology. The driest examples include both sand barrens and scrub dominated by Pinus palustris or Pinus clausa. The sand pine scrub (G008) consists of Pinus clausa over xeromorphic Quercus-dominated shrub vegetation, including Quercus chapmanii, Quercus geminata, Quercus inopina, and Quercus myrtifolia. Xeric longleaf pine-dominated vegetation (G154) consists of open woodlands of Pinus palustris over understories of Quercus incana, Quercus laevis, and/or Quercus margarettiae. The ground layer may be sparse, with Schizachyrium scoparium and/or one of the wiregrass forms of Aristida being characteristic. The dry-mesic loamy longleaf (G009) is intermediate in moisture status, with irregularly scattered trees of Pinus palustris, and usually clumps of midstory Quercus spp. and a grassy understory. Mesic longleaf pine flatwoods (G596) are typically found on Spodosol soils, and exhibit an open canopy of Pinus palustris with a grass-dominated ground layer, and a high diversity of forbs. Wet and mesic longleaf pine savannas and flatwoods (G190) are characterized by poorly drained, somewhat poorly drained, and seasonally saturated mineral soils, over a wide range of textures, with at least seasonally high water tables. In natural condition, canopies are open and are commonly monospecific stands of Pinus palustris or may contain other pines such as Pinus elliottii var. elliottii, Pinus serotina, or Pinus taeda. In south Florida, stands are dominated by Pinus elliottii var. densa. In high-quality stands, the ground layer contains a diverse mix of grasses, herbs, and low shrubs. Among the grasses, Aristida beyrichiana or Aristida stricta often dominate within their respective ranges, but Andropogon capillipes, other Andropogon spp., Ctenium aromaticum, Muhlenbergia expansa, Schizachyrium scoparium, Sporobolus floridanus, Sporobolus pinetorum, Sporobolus teretifolius, or other grasses may also dominate.
In all of the various kinds of Pinus palustris woodlands, the absence of fire for only a few years to a decade may dramatically alter the physiognomy and composition of the lower strata, with understory hardwoods and shrubs crowding out the grasses and forbs. Exposure to frequent, low-intensity surface fires is the dominant natural ecological process structuring the physiognomy of all of the Pinus palustris savannas and woodlands, influencing the local biodiversity. In some parts of the coastal plain, this vegetation historically constituted one of the most extensive types in the region. Widespread alterations, which followed European settlement, including changes to natural fire regimes, have produced drastic changes to this vegetation, and few large examples are extant that are managed using historical fire regimes. At present, many areas have undergone long periods of time without fire, and this has resulted in greater dominance by shrubs, including Ilex glabra, Serenoa repens, and Vaccinium spp., as well as denser canopies of Pinus elliottii or Pinus taeda rather than Pinus palustris.
With the exception of the Pinus clausa-dominated ~Sand Pine Scrub Forest & Open Woodland Group (G008)$$, the dominance of Pinus palustris in stands of this vegetation is characteristic. Canopies are naturally open, but may become more closed with ingrowth of hardwoods with the absence of fire. The components of the understory and ground layer of this vegetation will vary greatly across both its large geographic range and its wide latitude of hydrological variation.
Pinus palustris is dominant in stands of this vegetation with the exception of sand pine scrub, which is a minor component. Aristida stricta is characteristic of many associations. In its narrow taxonomic sense, it is confined to the Atlantic Coastal Plain, but its close relative, Aristida beyrichiana, is found across much of the remainder of the range of the vegetation type. Quercus species are not characteristic of all of the components of the unit.
This macrogroup is part of 1.B.1.Na Southeastern North American Forest & Woodland Division (D006), but this definition includes vegetation that may have tree cover to as low as 10%, thereby accommodating savannas as conventionally defined. The variation among associations in this macrogroup will be accounted for in the delimiting of the component alliances (e.g., Pinus palustris versus Pinus elliottii, "flatwoods" versus "savannas," etc.). Unfortunately, nomenclature offered by various workers has often been inconsistent and contradictory, particularly regarding moisture conditions (e.g., mesic pine forest, wet savanna, flatwoods, etc.) (Rheinhardt et al. 2002). No associations have currently been described in the USNVC for the south Florida components. More information may be available in DeCoster et al. (1999).
Synonomy:= Flatwoods (Peet 2006) = Flatwoods - mesic flatwoods (Myers 1990a) ? Grossarenic Dry Uplands (Turner et al. 1999) > Longleaf Pine - Scrub Oak: 59 (Eyre 1980) > Longleaf Pine: 70 (Eyre 1980) = Longleaf-Blackgum Savannahs (Ajilvsgi 1979) > Longleaf-Bluestem Uplands (Ajilvsgi 1979) = Mesic flatwoods (FNAI 2010a) = Mesic flatwoods (FNAI 1990) > Pine Forest (Duever et al. 1986) > Sandhill (FNAI 2010a) > Sandhill Pine Forest (Marks and Harcombe 1981) > Scrub (FNAI 2010a) > Scrubby Flatwoods (FNAI 2010a) > Upland Pine (FNAI 2010a) ? Upland Pine Forest (Marks and Harcombe 1981) > Wet Flatwoods (FNAI 2010a) ? Wetland Pine Savanna (Marks and Harcombe 1981) = Xeric Sand Barrens and Uplands (Peet 2006) > Xeric Sandhill Scrub (Bennett and Nelson 1991) > Xeric stream terrace sand ridge subtype (of Upland Longleaf Pine Savanna) (Bridges and Orzell 1989a)
Related Type Name:
Abrahamson and Hartnett 1990
Abrahamson et al. 1984
Beckage et al. 2009
Bennett and Nelson 1991
Bridges and Orzell 1989a
Comer et al. 2003
Cruikshank and Eldredge 1939
DeCoster et al. 1999
Drewa et al. 2002b
Duever et al. 1986
Edwards et al. 2013
Faber-Langendoen et al. 2017a
Foster et al. 1917
Gagnon et al. 2010
Gilliam et al. 2006
Griffith et al. 2001
Harcombe et al. 1993
Hinman et al. 2008
Huffman and Judd 1998
Huffman et al. 2004
Leichty et al. 2011
Lugo and Zucca 1983
Marks and Harcombe 1981
McWilliams and Lord 1988
Menges et al. 1993
Noel et al. 1998
Olson and Platt 1995
Orzell and Bridges 2006a
Outcalt pers. comm.
Peet and Allard 1993
Platt and Gottschalk 2001
Platt and Rathbun 1993
Platt et al. 1988a
Platt et al. 1988b
Platt et al. 2006a
Platt et al. 2006b
Rheinhardt et al. 2002
Schafale and Weakley 1990
Schmalzer and Hinkle 1992b
Schmalzer and Hinkle 1996
Shantz and Zon 1924
Slocum et al. 2003
Slocum et al. 2010
Stout and Marion 1993
Streng et al. 1993
Turner et al. 1999
West et al. 1993
AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TX, VA
This vegetation is found in the coastal plains of the southeastern United States from southeastern Virginia south to Florida and west to eastern Texas, exclusive of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The sand pine scrub (G008) is mainly found in central Florida, particularly on the Lake Wales Ridge.
US Forest Service Ecoregions
Province Name: Province Code:   Occurrence Status:
Stands of this vegetation are naturally open in their degree of canopy closure (woodlands to savannas), dominated by tall evergreen needle-leaved trees that are straight, well-formed, and moderately tall. The original longleaf pine ecosystems of the southeastern United States were generally bi-layered communities with the physiognomy maintained by frequent, low-intensity surface fires that removed most small woody plants and thereby kept the canopy open (Peet 2006). These more open canopies with grass-dominated understories were more prevalent prior to the twentieth century. Without frequent fire, broad-leaved woody plants may occupy more of the cover of the stand, leading to loss of most of the biodiversity (Frost 2000, Peet 2006). Stands of sand pine scrub (G008) have an emergent overstory of Pinus clausa over xeromorphic shrub vegetation (mostly Quercus species). According to Harper (1927), "the vegetation is mostly dwarfed, gnarled and crooked, and presents a tangled, scraggly aspect."
This woodland vegetation is dominated primarily by Pinus palustris, but stands of Pinus clausa are also included here. This vegetation covers both a large geographic range and a wide latitude of hydrological variation, from very dry to very wet. The components of the understory and ground layer will vary greatly across this range of biogeography and hydrology. The driest examples include both sand barrens and scrub dominated by Pinus palustris or Pinus clausa. The sand pine scrub (G008) consists of Pinus clausa over xeromorphic Quercus-dominated shrub vegetation, including Quercus chapmanii, Quercus geminata, Quercus inopina, and Quercus myrtifolia. The most important shrub species include Ceratiola ericoides, Lyonia ferruginea, Quercus chapmanii, Quercus geminata, Quercus inopina, Quercus myrtifolia, and Serenoa repens. The ground cover is always sparse but typically includes Andropogon floridanus, Licania michauxii, Rhynchospora megalocarpa, and a variety of lichens (Cladonia and Cladina species). Xeric longleaf pine-dominated vegetation (G154) consists of open woodlands of Pinus palustris over understories of Quercus incana, Quercus laevis, and/or Quercus margarettiae. Schizachyrium scoparium is an important grass throughout. Sites in North Carolina and northern South Carolina often have Aristida stricta as a dominant, and sites from southern South Carolina through much of Georgia and Florida often have Aristida beyrichiana as a dominant. West of the Apalachicola River, Aristida beyrichiana is constrained in distribution to the lowest coastal plain, dropping out in eastern-most Mississippi, though other Aristida species are important, such as Aristida purpurascens and Aristida condensata. Other frequent herbaceous plants include Chrysopsis gossypina, Pityopsis spp., Pteridium aquilinum, Rhynchosia cytisoides, Rhynchospora grayi, Sorghastrum secundum, Stipulicida setacea, and Stylisma pickeringii. Important shrubs include Gaylussacia dumosa, Licania michauxii, and Rhus copallinum. In addition, Serenoa repens may form shrubby thickets from southern Georgia across Florida and southern Alabama.
The dry-mesic loamy longleaf (G009) has irregularly scattered trees of Pinus palustris, and usually clumps of midstory Quercus spp., such as Quercus falcata, Quercus incana, Quercus margarettiae, Quercus marilandica, and sometimes Quercus laevis, and a grassy understory. Low shrubs, mostly ericaceous, may be abundant. East of the Mississippi River, Aristida stricta (in North and South Carolina) or Aristida beyrichiana (from South Carolina to Mississippi) are usually the dominant or at least a characteristic herb. In central South Carolina and west of the Mississippi River, both of the Aristida species are absent and various other grass species dominate. Some typical mesic to dry-mesic herbaceous species include Andropogon ternarius, Andropogon gyrans var. gyrans, Andropogon virginicus, Panicum virgatum, Schizachyrium scoparium, Schizachyrium tenerum, Sorghastrum nutans, Sorghastrum elliottii, Sorghastrum secundum, Sporobolus clandestinus, and Sporobolus junceus.
Mesic longleaf pine flatwoods (G596) exhibit an open canopy of Pinus palustris with a grass-dominated ground layer, and a high diversity of forbs. Low shrubs, mostly ericaceous, may be abundant, such as Vaccinium spp. and Ilex spp. In addition, Serenoa repens is a characteristic species, particularly in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The ground layer flora is similar to that of dry-mesic loamy longleaf (G009), but perhaps more diverse. Stands in south-central Florida contain Panicum abscissum.
Wet and mesic longleaf pine savannas and flatwoods (G190) are characterized by poorly drained, somewhat poorly drained, and seasonally saturated mineral soils, over a wide range of textures, with at least seasonally high water tables. In natural condition, canopies are open and are commonly monospecific stands of Pinus palustris or may contain other pines such as Pinus elliottii var. elliottii, Pinus serotina, or Pinus taeda. In south Florida, stands are dominated by Pinus elliottii var. densa. In high-quality stands, the ground layer contains a diverse mix of grasses, herbs, and low shrubs. Grasses naturally dominate the ground cover (Streng et al. 1993). Aristida beyrichiana or Aristida stricta often dominate within their respective ranges, but Andropogon capillipes, other Andropogon spp., Ctenium aromaticum, Muhlenbergia expansa, Schizachyrium scoparium, Sporobolus floridanus, Sporobolus pinetorum, Sporobolus teretifolius, and/or other grasses and sedges, including Rhynchospora spp. may also dominate. A great diversity of other herbs is often present, including composites, legumes, insectivorous plants, and variety of showy forbs. Some forbs may include species of Agalinis, Baptisia, Carphephorus, Crotalaria, Helianthus, Liatris, Polygala, Rhynchosia, Sarracenia, Solidago, Symphyotrichum, Tephrosia, and many others. Shrubs may include Cyrilla racemiflora, Ilex coriacea, Ilex glabra, Ilex vomitoria, Lyonia lucida, Quercus geminata, Quercus minima, Quercus pumila, Serenoa repens, Vaccinium darrowii, Vaccinium myrsinites, as well as Morella cerifera and Baccharis halimifolia in near-coastal habitats.
The climate of the Southeastern Coastal Plain is humid and warm-temperate, and characterized by hot summers and mild winters. Annual mean temperatures range from 16-23°C (60-74°F). Annual precipitation ranges from 109 to 175 cm (43-69 inches) (Boyer 1990). Fall is the driest season of the year, although periods of drought during the growing season are not unusual (Boyer 1990). Some parts of the range, particularly central Florida, has a very high frequency of lightning strikes.
Xeric longleaf pine woodlands are typically found on deep coarse sands. The dry-mesic loamy longleaf (G009) is intermediate in moisture status, and occurs on deep, well-drained sandy to loamy soils on upland sites of the coastal plain, on landforms that include loamy to sandy flats, relict beach system deposits, eolian sand deposits, Carolina bay rims (Bennett and Nelson 1991), and occasional low rolling hills. Soils range from mesic to xeric and from sandy to loamy or occasionally clayey. Most natural remnants are on coarse sands, but many examples probably once occurred on loamy soils. Soils are largely acidic and infertile, and the coarsest sands are excessively drained and sterile, though local richer, mesic sites occur. Ultisols most commonly associated with longleaf pine are Typic Paleudults and Plinthic Paleudults. Some areas are occupied by Psamments and other coarser-textured soils.
Wet-mesic longleaf pine woodlands (G190) occur on wet mineral soils in the middle and outer coastal plains. Typical landforms on which they are found include broad, poorly drained clayey, loamy or sandy flats, coastal alluvial plains, as well as low areas in relict beach ridge systems and eolian sand deposits. Examples are found on relatively recent (Pliocene-Pleistocene) geologic formations. Stands occasionally occur on river terraces above current flood levels and on perched water tables. Soils vary in texture from clayey to sandy, with no accumulations of organic surface layer (although they may be buried beneath surface sands). Soils are seasonally saturated due to high water table or poor soil drainage. The degree of seasonal saturation varies greatly among sites and depends on water supply, impediments to drainage, and evaporation.
In all of these various kinds of longleaf pine woodlands, the absence of fire for only a few years may dramatically alter the physiognomy and composition of the lower strata, with understory hardwoods and shrubs crowding out the grasses and forbs. Exposure to frequent, low-intensity surface fires is the dominant natural ecological process structuring the physiognomy of all of these savannas and woodlands, influencing the local biodiversity. In some parts of the coastal plain, this vegetation historically constituted one of the most extensive types in the region. Pinus palustris is shade-intolerant and slow to reach reproductive age but is very long-lived, with some trees in old-growth stands 200-500 years of age (West et al. 1993). Widespread alterations followed European settlement, including conversion to agriculture and reduction in fire frequency, and have produced drastic changes to this vegetation. Large remaining examples on conservation lands are managed using prescribed fire. At present, many areas have undergone long periods of time without fire, and this has resulted in greater dominance by shrubs, including Ilex glabra, Serenoa repens, and Vaccinium spp., as well as denser canopies of Pinus elliottii or Pinus taeda rather than Pinus palustris (Huffman and Judd 1998, Noel et al. 1998). Hurricanes can also play a role in the dynamics of Pinus palustris vegetation, creating openings where tree regeneration can take place. Sand pine scrub vegetation (G008) is prone to infrequent, intense fire which can crown and consume Pinus clausa trees; its serotinous cones open following fire. The common shrubs resprout after fire, and there are many herbaceous plants that benefit from fire as well. Myers (1990) indicates that much of the variability in Florida scrub is due to variation in fire-return interval which ranges from 10 to 100 years.
Frequent fire is the predominant natural disturbance of ~Dry-Mesic Loamy Longleaf Pine Woodland Group (G009)$$ and ~Mesic Longleaf Pine Flatwoods - Spodosol Woodland Group (G596)$$, and this vegetation has a natural fire-return interval of from two to three years. These fires are low to moderate in intensity, removing above-ground parts of herbs and shrubs, but having little effect on the fire-tolerant Pinus palustris trees. The vegetation recovers very quickly from fire, with live herbaceous biomass often restored in just a few weeks; many ground layer plants have their flowering triggered by burning (Platt et al. 1988a). In the absence of fire, species which are less able to withstand fire increase, including Quercus spp. and other shrubs. These are kept to low density and mostly reduced to shrub size with fire, but become tall and dense in the absence of fire. This can reduce Pinus palustris tree regeneration, and lead to a decline in ground layer density and diversity. Frequent, low-intensity fire was the dominant natural ecological force. Natural stochastic variation in fire, as well as the relative flammability of the vegetation, was presumably important in determining the relative intensity of fire and its effects on vegetation at a local scale (Beckage et al. 2009, Gagnon et al. 2010). Under natural conditions, the overstories of wet and mesic pine savannas (G190) are multi-aged (Platt et al. 1988), consisting of a fine mosaic of small even-aged groves driven by gap-phase regeneration and hurricanes that opened stands periodically (Platt and Rathbun 1993, Noel et al. 1998, Gilliam et al. 2006).
The ground cover of some wet and mesic pine savannas (G190) is being invaded by non-native plant species that include grasses (e.g., Imperata cylindrica), shrubs (e.g., Ligustrum sinense, Triadica sebifera), as well as ferns (e.g., Lygodium japonicum, Lygodium microphyllum) (Platt and Gottschalk 1991, Platt et al. 2006b, Leichty et al. 2011).
M. Pyne      Version Date: 12May2015
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USNVC Credits: Detailed Description of the National Vegetation Classification Types
To cite a description:
Author(s). publicationYear. Description Title [last revised revisionDate]. United States National Vegetation Classification. Federal Geographic Data Committee, Washington, D.C.
About spatial standards:
The United States Federal Geographic Data Committee (hereafter called the FGDC) is tasked to develop geospatial data standards that will enable sharing of spatial data among producers and users and support the growing National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), acting under the Office of Management Budget (OMB) Circular A-16 (OMB 1990, 2000) and Executive Order #12906 (Clinton 1994) as amended by Executive Order #13286 (Bush 2003). FGDC subcommittees and working groups, in consultation and cooperation with state, local, tribal, private, academic, and international communities, develop standards for the content, quality, and transferability of geospatial data. FGDC standards are developed through a structured process, integrated with one another to the extent possible, supportable by the current vendor community (but are independent of specific technologies), and publicly available.
About this document
This document contains type descriptions at the Macrogroup level of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification. These descriptions were primarily written by NatureServe ecologists in collaboration with Federal Geographic Data Committee Vegetation Subcommittee and a wide variety of state, federal and private partners as a part of the implementation of the National Vegetation Classification. Formation descriptions were written by the Hierarchy Revisions Working Group. The descriptions are based on consultation with natural resource professionals, published literature, and other vegetation classification systems. The Ecological Society of America's Panel on Vegetation Classification is responsible for managing the review and formal adoption of these types into the National Vegetation Classification. Partners involved in the implementation of the USNVC include:
Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Department of Commerce (DOC)
Department of Defense (DOD)
Department of the Interior (USDI)
Forest Service (FS) - Chair
National Agriculture Statistical Service (NASS)
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
U.S. Navy (NAVY)
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
National Park Service (NPS)
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Non U.S. Government
Ecological Society of America (ESA)
Given the dynamic nature of the standard, it is possible a type description is incomplete or in revision at the time of download; therefore, users of the data should track the date of access and read the revisions section of the USNVC.org website to understand the current status of the classification. While USNVC data have undergone substantial review prior to posting, it is possible that some errors or inaccuracies have remained undetected.
For information on the process used to develop these descriptions see:
Faber-Langendoen, D., T. Keeler-Wolf, D. Meidinger, D. Tart, B. Hoagland, C. Josse, G. Navarro, S. Ponomarenko, J.-P. Saucier, A. Weakley, P. Comer. 2014. EcoVeg: A new approach to vegetation description and classification. Ecological Monographs 84:533-561 (erratum 85:473).
Franklin, S., D. Faber-Langendoen, M. Jennings, T. Keeler-Wolf, O. Loucks, A. McKerrow, R.K. Peet, and D. Roberts. 2012. Building the United States National Vegetation Classification. Annali di Botanica 2: 1-9.
Jennings, M. D., D. Faber-Langendoen, O. L. Louckes, R. K. Peet, and D. Roberts. 2009. Standards for
associations and alliances of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification. Ecological Monographs
FGDC [Federal Geographic Data Committee]. 2008. Vegetation Classification Standard, FGDC-STD-005,
Version 2. Washington, DC., USA. [http://www.fgdc.gov/standards/projects/FGDC-standards-projects/vegetation/NVCS_V2_FINAL_2008-02.pdf]
For additional information contact:
Implementation of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification Standard - Alexa McKerrow
NatureServe's Development of NVC Type Descriptions - Don Faber-Langendoen (don_faber-
Ecological Society of America's Review of the Type Descriptions Scott.Franklin@unco.edu
Federal Geographic Data Committee - Vegetation Subcommittee's Activities - Marianne Burke
We have incorporated significant descriptive information previously compiled by R.K. Peet, B. Sorrie, A.S. Weakley, and C.W. Nordman.