These small-patch herbaceous to shrubby seep and seepage fen wetlands are found on flat to gentle slopes or in shallow depressions, often on peaty soils, predominantly on circumneutral to calcareous or acidic substrates (gravel, limestone, and dolomite), and range from the Appalachians, Interior Low Plateau, and Ozark regions north to New England and the Midwest-Great Lakes region.
Collapse All::Expand All
Shrubby-cinquefoil - Canadian Burnet / Inland Sedge Seep Macrogroup
Eastern North American Cool Temperate Seep
These are generally small-patch herbaceous to shrubby seepage wetlands found predominantly on circumneutral to somewhat alkaline to acidic sites, ranging from the Appalachians, Interior Low Plateau, and Ozark regions north to New England and the Midwest-Great Lakes region. North-central and northeastern seep vegetation is dominated by tall and short forbs, as well as by graminoids and Sphagnum mosses in some associations. Characteristic forbs include Chelone spp., Impatiens capensis, Impatiens pallida, Rudbeckia laciniata, and Symplocarpus foetidus; graminoids may also be present, including Carex spp., Eriophorum virginicum, and Glyceria striata. In the Ozarks region and Interior Plateau, characteristic herbaceous species include Cardamine bulbosa, Carex interior, Carex lurida, Carex leptalea, Impatiens capensis, Parnassia grandifolia, Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa, Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa, Scirpus atrovirens, Scirpus cyperinus, Spartina pectinata, and Thelypteris palustris var. pubescens. Shrubs such as Alnus serrulata and Salix spp. may also occur. In the Central and Southern Appalachians, seepage fens are typically dominated by trees and shrubs. Some characteristic tree species include Tsuga canadensis, Picea rubens, Acer rubrum, Nyssa sylvatica, and Pinus rigida; some characteristic shrubs include Alnus serrulata, Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides, and Toxicodendron vernix. The habitats on which this type occurs are generally on flat to gently sloping terrain, on a variety of rock types, mostly typically limestone and dolomite, but also mafic and ultramafic igneous and metamorphic rocks, as well as less frequently acidic sedimentary rocks. Some soils are essentially a thin organic layer over limestone gravel, over a less permeable layer of more solid rock; the soil or substrate is saturated by groundwater, which may be circumneutral and of calcareous origin. To the north, the organic (peat) surface component of the substrate may be deeper than in the south. In the Central and Southern Appalachians, these sites occur at elevations below 1220 m (4000 feet) on soils which are often saturated and mucky, including in poorly drained bottomlands. Wetness results from a combination of groundwater input, seepage from adjacent slopes, rainfall and impeded drainage. In glaciated areas, examples are characteristically in pitted outwash or in kettle lakes associated with kettle-kame-moraine topography. North-central and northeastern seeps are linear, non-peaty, non-sphagnous, often rocky, groundwater slope wetlands that are embedded in an upland forest setting.
These are generally small-scale herbaceous to shrubby wetlands, distinctive and different from the surrounding matrix forest vegetation. They are typically on flat to gentle slopes or in shallow depressions, predominantly on mafic or calcareous substrates (occasionally acidic). The soils will have some organic content (more in the north, less to the south) and saturated primarily due to seepage. Characteristic plant species vary across the broad geographic range of the macrogroup. Ericaceous shrubs are typically unimportant, with Alnus serrulata, Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda, and Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides being diagnostic shrubs. Characteristic sedges and other graminoids (varying across the range) include Calamagrostis canadensis, Carex atlantica, Carex canescens, Carex echinata, Carex folliculata, Carex gynandra, Carex leptalea, Carex lurida, Carex ruthii, Carex stricta, Carex scoparia, Carex trisperma, Cladium mariscoides, Eriophorum virginicum, Juncus gymnocarpus, Rhynchospora alba, Rhynchospora rariflora, Scirpus atrovirens, and Scirpus cyperinus. Some characteristic forbs (varying across the range) include Chelone glabra, Impatiens capensis, Impatiens pallida, Helenium brevifolium, Lilium grayi, Osmunda cinnamomea, Oxypolis rigidior, Packera aurea, Parnassia asarifolia, Parnassia grandifolia, Platanthera clavellata, Rudbeckia fulgida, Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii, Sarracenia oreophila, Scutellaria lateriflora, Solidago patula var. patula, Solidago uliginosa, Symphyotrichum puniceum, Symplocarpus foetidus, Thelypteris noveboracensis, Triantha glutinosa, and Woodwardia areolata.
There does not appear to be a suite of nominals that covers the wide geographic range of this macrogroup. The difficulty is to choose three nominals, each of which represent parts of the range, but do not overlap very much. Three nominals were chosen from among these taxa: Alnus serrulata, Carex interior, Cornus racemosa, Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda, Sanguisorba canadensis, and Symplocarpus foetidus.
The related but more northern Midwest Prairie Alkaline Fen Group (G183) has been moved to North American Boreal & Sub-boreal Alkaline Fen Macrogroup (M877) (alkaline peatland). This macrogroup (M061) now contains G182, G184, G189. This is a somewhat heterogeneous macrogroup, united by a common set of ecological processes, and a common set of mainly circumneutral to somewhat alkaline or acidic indicator species. Their small-patch characteristics, variable biogeographic settings and high species richness make it difficult to characterize their vegetation patterns. Our description highlights the regional patterns within the macrogroup, based on component group descriptions.
The associations in Central & Southern Appalachian Seep Group (G184) are variously known locally as either "bogs" or "fens," (e.g., Richardson and Gibbons 1993), but their hydrology fits the definition of seepage fen, namely that they are groundwater-fed peatlands, with hydrologic and edaphic conditions ranging from acidic to alkaline. Except for the few examples with obvious calcareous groundwater input, the vegetation and flora are more characteristic of northern circumneutral to poor fens than of northern rich fens. All of these wetland associations are placed in Central & Southern Appalachian Seep Group (G184). The considerable diversity in vegetation, substrate type, elevation, and environment among the members of this group requires that these issues be addressed at the alliance level.
Central & Southern Appalachian Seep Group (G184) is distinguished from North-Central & Northeastern Seep Group (G189) by habitat and vegetation composition. Though both groups have heterogeneous and variable vegetation, they share few species. The setting also differs, with vegetation of Central & Southern Appalachian Seep Group (G184) occurring on flat sites such as valley bottoms, where impeded drainage is important, while the seeps of G189 occur on sloping sites where waterflow is freer and more groundwater flow is needed to create a wetland. High-elevation wetlands in West Virginia are placed elsewhere.
Midwest Prairie Alkaline Fen Group (G183) can seem conceptually similar to Central & Southern Appalachian Seep Group (G184) where the two groups overlap (Central Appalachians), but that group generally features calciphilic species that are absent or unimportant in this G183.
Missouri has a "glacial fen" type that covers northern Missouri and belongs within Midwest Prairie Alkaline Fen Group (G183) (Nelson 2005). Missouri's "prairie fen" is entirely restricted to the Ozarks and belongs within Central Interior Seepage Fen Group (G182). Extension of G182 into southern Ohio may need to be confirmed.
Synonomy:= Mountain Bog (Richardson and Gibbons 1993) > Mountain Bogs and Fens (Richardson and Gibbons 1993) < Mountain and Piedmont Bog (Wharton 1978)
Related Type Name:
Faber-Langendoen et al. 2017a
Fleming et al. 2006
Metzler and Barrett 2006
Minnesota DNR 2003
Mitsch and Gosselink 1986b
Orzell et al. 1985
Richardson and Gibbons 1993
Schafale and Weakley 1990
AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, NB?, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, ON, PA, QC?, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV
These seepage wetlands range from the Southern Appalachians, Cumberland Mountains, upper Piedmont, Ridge and Valley, Central Appalachians, Interior Low Plateau, and Ozark regions north to New England, the Great Lakes states, and west to Minnesota, as well as into adjacent Canada.
US Forest Service Ecoregions
Province Name: Province Code:   Occurrence Status:
This vegetation is typically dominated by a combination of shrubs and herbs, with a well-developed herbaceous layer dominated by hydrophytic graminoid, sedge, and forb species, often with a sparse to somewhat dense cover of shrubs interspersed in the stand, or present on the edges. Some associations contain substantial Sphagnum mosses. Trees are usually uncommon in these wetlands, although Acer rubrum or other native increasers may invade some examples. This vegetation may be zoned or it may be a complex of zones or patches with a mixture of physiognomies. The wettest areas typically have herbaceous graminoid vegetation dominated by Carex spp., usually with abundant Sphagnum. Scattered trees and shrubs may be present in the herbaceous zones. Most examples also have a dense shrub zone around the edges. Some examples have adjacent forested zones around the edges, or the openings may be embedded in a forest matrix. Some examples, particularly seepage wetlands, may be in a mosaic wetland with less calcareous parts away from the seepage areas.
The vegetation of ~Central Interior Seepage Fen Group (G182)$$ is typically dominated by calciphilic Carex spp. and graminoids such as Andropogon gerardii. Other characteristic species include Cardamine bulbosa, Impatiens capensis, Osmunda spp., Parnassia grandifolia, Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa, Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa, Sorghastrum nutans, Spartina pectinata, Scirpus atrovirens, Scirpus cyperinus, and Thelypteris palustris var. pubescens. Tall shrubs such as Alnus serrulata, Cornus amomum and Salix spp., may occur, and Acer rubrum can invade examples.
Characteristic shrubs in stands of ~Central & Southern Appalachian Seep Group (G184)$$ include Alnus serrulata, Toxicodendron vernix, and Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides. Some other shrubs that may be present include Chamaedaphne calyculata, Cornus racemosa, Ilex collina, Kalmia carolina, Lindera benzoin, Rhododendron arborescens, Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron viscosum, Salix sericea, Sanguisorba canadensis, Spiraea alba var. latifolia, and Vaccinium macrocarpon. Some graminoids which are typical include Calamagrostis canadensis, Carex atlantica, Carex canescens, Carex echinata, Carex folliculata, Carex gynandra, Carex leptalea, Carex lurida, Carex ruthii, Carex stricta, Carex scoparia, Carex trisperma, Cladium mariscoides, Eriophorum virginicum, Juncus gymnocarpus, Rhynchospora alba, Rhynchospora rariflora, and Scirpus cyperinus. Some forbs and ferns include Caltha palustris, Chelone cuthbertii, Drosera rotundifolia, Helenium brevifolium, Lilium grayi, Osmunda cinnamomea, Oxypolis rigidior, Parnassia asarifolia, Parnassia grandifolia, Platanthera clavellata, Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii, Sarracenia oreophila, Scutellaria lateriflora, Solidago patula var. patula, Solidago uliginosa, Symphyotrichum puniceum, Thelypteris noveboracensis, and Woodwardia areolata. Mosses include Polytrichum spp., Sphagnum bartlettianum, Sphagnum subsecundum, Sphagnum warnstorfii, and other Sphagnum spp.
The vegetation of ~North-Central & Northeastern Seep Group (G189)$$ is typically dominated by tall and short wetland forbs or by graminoids. Species characteristic of floodplains and true bogs are typically absent, but some bog-related species may be present. Shrub species are typically sparse or form dense zones around the edges. The shrubs are most typically mesophytic, rather than obligate wetland species. The herb layer is generally well-developed, and is usually dominated either by characteristic forbs such as Chelone spp., Impatiens capensis, Impatiens pallida, Rudbeckia laciniata, or Symplocarpus foetidus, or by Carex spp. and other graminoids such as Eriophorum virginicum and Glyceria striata. Trees may be present on the edges of stands and often overhanging, but are not characteristic.
Habitats are generally on flat to gently sloping terrain, on a variety of rock types including mafic and ultramafic igneous and metamorphic as well as calcareous and (less frequently) acidic sedimentary. Some soils are essentially a thin organic layer over limestone gravel, over a less permeable layer of more solid rock; the soil or substrate is saturated by groundwater, which is circumneutral and of calcareous origin in some examples and acidic in others. To the north, the organic (peat) surface component of the substrate may be deeper than in the south. In the Central and Southern Appalachians, these sites occur at elevations below 1220 m (4000 feet) on soils which are often saturated and mucky, including in poorly drained bottomlands. Wetness results from a combination of groundwater input, seepage from adjacent slopes, rainfall and impeded drainage. In glaciated areas, examples are characteristically in pitted outwash or in kettle lakes associated with kettle-kame-moraine topography. North-central and northeastern seeps are linear, non-peaty, non-extensive sphagnous, often rocky, groundwater slope wetlands that are embedded in an upland forest setting. Landforms include sideslopes of hills in narrow valleys, edges of flat valley bottoms, bases of bluffs, rock ledges, and terraces, as well as concave slopes, convex slopes, and (rarely) ridgetop gaps.
The soil of the Southern and Central Appalachian examples (G184) is saturated most or all of the year, at least in the wettest parts, and may be very mucky. Although sites rarely flood, wetness results from a combination of groundwater input, rainfall, seepage from adjacent slopes, and impeded drainage. The groundwater is usually highly acidic and low in dissolved bases, but one or a few examples have somewhat calcareous water input because groundwater flows through mafic rock substrates. Overland flow and stream flooding are presumably only rare events. The geologic substrate is usually alluvium. The amount of seepage water input is variable among examples. In a hydrogeomorphic sense, the Southern and Central Appalachian examples would be regarded as being primarily a slope type (NRCS 2008), although typically on very gentle slopes.
Climate: This vegetation is favored by a cool-temperate climate, where cool temperatures and high rainfall make more water available, making seepage flow more reliable. Soil/substrate/hydrology: This vegetation occurs in small patches where seepage creates permanent or seasonal saturated soil conditions. Soils are usually saturated mineral soils, rather than peats or mucks. Soil wetness may limit recruitment of most tree and shrub seedlings to drier microsites, making canopy gaps persist longer than in adjacent forests and creating and sustaining the openings where this vegetation is found. Wetness may vary substantially over short distances in response to amounts of seepage, flow, and pooling by topography or impermeable substrate.
In the Central and Southern Appalachians (G184), the natural dynamics of this vegetation are not fully understood and are subject to debate. The factors that created and naturally maintain the vegetation are not completely clear. Most examples show a strong tendency at present for shrubs and trees to increase in density in the open areas, threatening to eliminate the characteristic herbaceous and graminoid species. This suggests that an important process has been altered or lost. One hypothesis is that these wetlands are an ephemeral feature developing from abandoned beaver ponds. Another hypothesis is that they result from a narrow combination of moisture and nutrient conditions, which have been widely altered in an obscure way that has changed ecosystem stability. The cattle grazing that was nearly universal in examples of this group in the past appears to have delayed woody succession but may also have altered the natural characteristics, including through nutrient enhancement. Fire is sometimes considered a factor, but most examples do not appear flammable enough to burn. Besides woody encroachment, they may be altered by changes in adjacent drainage, such as entrenchment by streams.
The presence of seepage is the primary environmental characteristic of north-central and northeastern seeps (G189). Long-term droughts that would affect seepage flow are presumed to have an effect, but this has not been documented. Soil wetness may limit recruitment of most tree and shrub seedlings to drier microsites, making canopy gaps persist longer than in adjacent forests and creating and sustaining the openings where this vegetation is found. Fire may penetrate from adjacent forests, but only in the driest conditions are they likely to be intense enough to have much effect within. Seeps are fairly permanent features of the landscape, but may potentially be created, destroyed, or changed in extent because of changes in groundwater flow, stream entrenchment or headward erosion, mass movement on slopes, or long-term climatic cycles. Examples are often left undisturbed when surrounding forests are logged. Effects of logging on water infiltration or surface flow may have significant indirect effects.
M. Pyne, S. Menard, S.C. Gawler, D. Faber-Langendoen      Version Date: 15Oct2014
Anderson, D. M. 1982. Plant communities of Ohio: A preliminary classification and description. Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Columbus, OH. 182 pp.
Evans, M. 1991. Kentucky ecological communities. Draft report to the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission. 19 pp.
Faber-Langendoen, D., J. Drake, S. Gawler, M. Hall, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, L. Sneddon, K. Schulz, J. Teague, M. Russo, K. Snow, and P. Comer, editors. 2010-2017a. Divisions, Macrogroups and Groups for the Revised U.S. National Vegetation Classification. NatureServe, Arlington, VA. plus appendices. [in preparation]
Fike, J. 1999. Terrestrial and palustrine plant communities of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Recreation, Bureau of Forestry, Harrisburg, PA. 86 pp.
Fleming, G. P., P. P. Coulling, K. D. Patterson, and K. Taverna. 2006. The natural communities of Virginia: Classification of ecological community groups. Second approximation. Version 2.2. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond. [http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/ncTIV.shtml]
Metzler, K., and J. Barrett. 2006. The vegetation of Connecticut: A preliminary classification. State Geological and Natural History Survey, Report of Investigations No. 12. Connecticut Natural Diversity Database, Hartford.
Minnesota DNR [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources]. 2003. Field guide to the native plant communities of Minnesota: The Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. Ecological Land Classification Program, Minnesota County Biological Survey, and Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul.
Minney, D. 2000. Edge of Appalachia Preserve: Plant community descriptions. Preliminary draft. An unpublished report for the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Mitsch, W. J., and J. G. Gosselink. 1986b. Northern peatlands and bogs. Pages 287-315 in: J. W. Mitsch and J. G. Gosselink. Wetlands. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York.
Motzkin, G. 1994. Calcareous fens of western New England and adjacent New York State. Rhodora 96(885):44-68.
Nelson, P. 2005. The terrestrial natural communities of Missouri. Third edition. Missouri Natural Areas Committee, Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO. 550 pp.
Nelson, P. W. 1985. The terrestrial natural communities of Missouri. Missouri Natural Areas Committee, Jefferson City. 197 pp. Revised edition, 1987.
NRCS [Natural Resources Conservation Service]. 2008. Hydrogeomorphic wetland classification system: An overview and modification to better meet the needs of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Technical Note No. 190-8-76. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. February 2008. ii + 8 pp.
Olivero, A. M. 2001. Classification and mapping of New York's calcareous fen communities. New York Natural Heritage Program. Report prepared for The Nature Conservancy - Central/Western New York Chapter, Albany, NY. June 2001. 28 pp. plus appendices.
Orzell, S., B. Pell, and G. Tucker. 1985. Notes on three palustrine natural community types in the Arkansas Ozarks. Arkansas Academy of Science Proceedings 39:141-143.
Richardson, C. J., and J. W. Gibbons. 1993. Pocosins, Carolina bays, and mountain bogs. Pages 257-310 in: W. H. Martin, S. G. Boyce, and A. C. Echternacht, editors. Biodiversity of the southeastern United States: Lowland terrestrial communities. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York.
Schafale, M. P. 2007. Fourth approximation guide. Mountain communities. December 2007 draft. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh.
Schafale, M. P., and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina. Third approximation. North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh. 325 pp.
Wharton, C. H. 1978. The natural environments of Georgia. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Atlanta. 227 pp.
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 S.C. Gawler, A.S. Weakley, and M.P. Schafale