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Fagus grandifolia / Carex pensylvanica - Ageratina altissima var. roanensis Forest
Translated Name: American Beech / Pennsylvania Sedge - Appalachian White Snakeroot Forest
Common Name: Southern Appalachian Beech Gap
Unique Identifier: CEGL006130
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This community includes forest vegetation with short-statured canopies dominated by Fagus grandifolia and occurring in the high-elevation landscapes of the Southern Appalachians. On drier sites, such as south slopes, the association is expressed as the classic "beech gap "having a dense, graminoid-dominated herbaceous stratum. On more mesic sites, such as north slopes, the community is thought to be more similar to northern hardwood forests, having a more diverse canopy and subcanopy, occurring over a field stratum that is a mixture of coarse forbs, ferns and sedges. This forest association typically occurs on concave slopes, in gaps, flat ridgetops, or upper slopes of all aspects, at elevations of greater than 1370 m (4500 feet). It is found in scattered sites on high elevations of the southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee and possibly Georgia. This community is a broad-leaved deciduous forest with a canopy dominated by stunted, sometimes gnarled Fagus grandifolia, sometimes with lesser amounts of Halesia tetraptera var. monticola or Aesculus flava and Betula alleghaniensis. The subcanopy, if present, may include small stems of canopy species as well as Acer spicatum, Acer pensylvanicum, Amelanchier laevis, and Sorbus americana. Typically there is little shrub development (0-10%) with such species as Crataegus punctata, Ribes spp., Viburnum lantanoides, Rubus canadensis, Hydrangea arborescens, and Cornus alternifolia. Herbaceous cover can vary from dense, often approaching 100% coverage by species of Carex including Carex aestivalis, Carex brunnescens, Carex debilis, Carex intumescens, and Carex pensylvanica, to moderately dense (40-60% cover) and dominated by large herbs and patches of ferns, with lesser amounts of sedges. Other herbaceous species in this community are typical of rich Southern Appalachian forests and may include Ageratina altissima var. roanensis, Anemone quinquefolia, Arisaema triphyllum, Eurybia chlorolepis (= Aster chlorolepis), Athyrium filix-femina ssp. asplenioides, Actaea racemosa (= Cimicifuga racemosa) Dryopteris campyloptera, Epifagus virginiana, Impatiens pallida, Medeola virginiana, Oxalis montana, Laportea canadensis, Luzula acuminata, Phacelia bipinnatifida, Poa alsodes, Prenanthes altissima, Prenanthes roanensis, Stellaria pubera, Thelypteris noveboracensis, and Trillium erectum. This community commonly occurs as small patches surrounded by other forest types, montane grasslands and shrublands.



Classification

Classification Confidence: Moderate
Classification Comments: This community includes forest vegetation with short-statured canopies dominated by Fagus grandifolia and occurring in the high-elevation landscapes of the Southern Appalachians. On drier sites, such as south slopes, the association is expressed as the classic "beech gap "having a dense, graminoid-dominated herbaceous stratum On more mesic sites, such as north slopes, the community is thought to be more similar to northern hardwood forests, having a more diverse canopy and subcanopy, occurring over a field stratum that is a mixture of coarse forbs, ferns and sedges. This community is thought to be limited to the range of Picea rubens and Abies fraseri (Whittaker 1956).

Vegetation Hierarchy
Class 1 - Forest & Woodland
Subclass 1.B - Temperate & Boreal Forest & Woodland
Formation 1.B.2 - Cool Temperate Forest & Woodland
Division 1.B.2.Na - Eastern North American Forest & Woodland
Macrogroup Appalachian-Interior-Northeastern Mesic Forest
Group Appalachian-Allegheny Northern Hardwood - Conifer Forest
Alliance Central & Southern Appalachian Buckeye - Northern Hardwood Forest

This is the revised vegetation hierarchy. For more information see Classification Sources and usnvc.org.

Similar Associations
Unique Identifier Name
CEGL007200 Fagus grandifolia Ridge and Valley Forest



Related Concepts from Other Classifications

Related Subnational Community Units
These data are subject to substantial ongoing revision and may be out of date for some states.
In the U.S., contact the state Heritage Program for the most complete and up-to-date information at: http://www.natureserve.org/natureserve-network.
Information from programs in other jurisdictions will be posted when they are made available.
Subnation Concept Name Relationship to Standard Confidence Reference
North Carolina Northern Hardwood Forest (Beech Gap Subtype) Equivalent Certain Schafale 2012


Other Related Concepts
Related Concept Name: Fagus grandifolia / Carex pensylvanica - Ageratina altissima var. roanensis Forest
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Fleming, G. P., and K. D. Patterson. 2009a. A vegetation classification for the Appalachian Trail: Virginia south to Georgia. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage. In-house analysis, March 2009.
Related Concept Name: Beech, BR
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Pyne, M. 1994. Tennessee natural communities. Unpublished document. Tennessee Department of Conservation, Ecology Service Division, Nashville. 7 pp.
Related Concept Name: IA4d. Southern Appalachian Beech Gap
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Allard, D. J. 1990. Southeastern United States ecological community classification. Interim report, Version 1.2. The Nature Conservancy, Southeast Regional Office, Chapel Hill, NC. 96 pp.
Related Concept Name: Northern Hardwood Forest (Beech Gap Subtype)
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: 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.
Related Concept Name: Northern Hardwood Forest (Sedge Beech Gap Subtype)
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Schafale, M. 1998b. Fourth approximation guide. High mountain communities. March 1998 draft. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh.
Related Concept Name: Permesotrophic Forest
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Rawinski, T. J. 1992. A classification of Virginia's indigenous biotic communities: Vegetated terrestrial, palustrine, and estuarine community classes. Unpublished document. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage. Natural Heritage Technical Report No. 92-21. Richmond, VA. 25 pp.
Related Concept Name: Sugar Maple - Beech - Yellow Birch: 25
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Eyre, F. H., editor. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Society of American Foresters, Washington, DC. 148 pp.
Related Concept Name: Sugar Maple-Beech Yellow Birch (81)
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: USFS [U.S. Forest Service]. 1988. Silvicultural examination and prescription field book. USDA Forest Service, Southern Region. Atlanta, GA. 35 pp.

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES202.029 Southern Appalachian Northern Hardwood Forest


NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: G1 (01Nov2002)
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: This community has a very restricted range with scattered occurrences of small acreage. Many occurrences have been, and continue to be, severely damaged by the European wild boar (Sus scrofa). Grazing and soil disturbance by this animal reduces understory herb cover to 10-30 percent of undisturbed levels and may affect tree growth and nutrient cycling (Singer et al. 1984). Beech bark disease, a complex made up of the Beech scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga) and a closely associated fungus (Nectria coccinea var. faginata) poses a severe threat to this community. Most all of the beech gap communities in the Great Smoky Mountains had succumbed to the beech bark disease or a combination of the beech bark disease and pollution by 2002 (R. White pers. comm.). Presumably this trend is being seen throughout the Southern Appalachians, resulting in the possible extinction of this community in the next few years. Therefore, this community was assigned a rank of G1.

Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: GApotentially occurs, NC, TN
Global Distribution: United States
Global Range: This community is found in scattered sites on high elevations of the southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, and Tennessee and possibly Georgia.

U.S. Forest Service Ecoregions
Domain Name: Humid Temperate Domain
Division Name: Hot Continental Regime Mountains
Province Name: Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest - Coniferous Forest - Meadow Province
Province Code: M221 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Northern Ridge and Valley Section
Section Code: M221A Occurrence Status: Possible
Section Name: Allegheny Mountains Section
Section Code: M221B Occurrence Status: Possible
Section Name: Cumberland Mountains Section
Section Code: M221C Occurrence Status: Possible
Section Name: Blue Ridge Mountains Section
Section Code: M221D Occurrence Status: Confident or certain


Vegetation

Vegetation Summary: This community is a broad-leaved deciduous forest with a canopy dominated by stunted, sometimes gnarled Fagus grandifolia sometimes with lesser amounts of Halesia tetraptera var. monticola or Aesculus flava and Betula alleghaniensis. The subcanopy, if present, may include small stems of canopy species as well as Acer spicatum, Acer pensylvanicum, Amelanchier laevis, and Sorbus americana. Typically there is little shrub development (0-10%) with such species as Crataegus punctata, Ribes spp., Viburnum lantanoides, Rubus canadensis, Hydrangea arborescens, and Cornus alternifolia. Herbaceous cover can vary from dense, often approaching 100% coverage by species of Carex including Carex aestivalis, Carex brunnescens, Carex debilis, Carex intumescens, and Carex pensylvanica to moderately dense (40-60% cover) and dominated by large herbs and patches of ferns, with lesser amounts of sedges (Whittaker 1956, Crandall 1958, Bratton 1975). Other herbaceous species in this community are typical of rich Southern Appalachian forests and may include Ageratina altissima var. roanensis, Anemone quinquefolia, Arisaema triphyllum, Eurybia chlorolepis (= Aster chlorolepis), Athyrium filix-femina ssp. asplenioides, Actaea racemosa (= Cimicifuga racemosa), Dryopteris campyloptera, Epifagus virginiana, Impatiens pallida, Medeola virginiana, Oxalis montana, Laportea canadensis, Luzula acuminata, Phacelia bipinnatifida, Poa alsodes, Prenanthes altissima, Prenanthes roanensis, Stellaria pubera, Thelypteris noveboracensis, and Trillium erectum (Whittaker 1956, Crandall 1958, Schafale and Weakley 1990).

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
eristic
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Fagus grandifolia G1 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy  
 
 
Halesia tetraptera var. monticola G1 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy  
 
 
Abies fraseri G1 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy      
 
 
Ageratina altissima var. roanensis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Epifagus virginiana G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Erythronium umbilicatum ssp. monostolum G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Eurybia chlorolepis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Gentiana austromontana G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Geum geniculatum G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Hypericum graveolens G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Hypericum mitchellianum G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Lilium grayi G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Phacelia fimbriata G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Platanthera grandiflora G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Prenanthes roanensis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Rugelia nudicaulis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Solidago glomerata G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Stachys clingmanii G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Stellaria corei G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Streptopus lanceolatus var. roseus G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Carex aestivalis G1 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 
Carex albicans G1 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 
Carex brunnescens G1 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 
Carex debilis G1 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 
Carex intumescens G1 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 
Carex pensylvanica G1 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 
Glyceria nubigena G1 Graminoid Herb (field)      
 
 


At-Risk Species Reported for this Association
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Abies fraseri
  (Fraser Fir)
G2  
Ageratina altissima var. roanensis
  (Appalachian White Snakeroot)
G5T3T4  
Erythronium umbilicatum ssp. monostolum
  (Dimpled Trout-lily)
G5T3  
Gentiana austromontana
  (Appalachian Gentian)
G3  
Geum geniculatum
  (Bent Avens)
G2  
Glyceria nubigena
  (Smoky Mountains Mannagrass)
G2G3  
Hypericum graveolens
  (Mountain St. John's-wort)
G3  
Hypericum mitchellianum
  (Blue Ridge St. John's-wort)
G3  
Lilium grayi
  (Gray's Lily)
G3  
Prenanthes roanensis
  (Roan Mountain Rattlesnake-root)
G3  
Rugelia nudicaulis
  (Rugel's Ragwort)
G3  
Solidago glomerata
  (Skunk Goldenrod)
G3  
Stachys clingmanii
  (Clingman's Hedge-nettle)
G2  

Vegetation Structure
Stratum Growth Form
Height of Stratum (m)
Cover
Class
%
Min
Cover %
Max
Cover %
Tree canopy Broad-leaved deciduous tree
 
 
 
 
Herb (field) Flowering forb
 
 
 
 
Herb (field) Fern (Spore-bearing forb)
 
 
 
 
Herb (field) Graminoid
 
 
 
 


Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: N
Environmental Summary: This community typically occurs on concave slopes, in gaps, flat ridgetops, or upper slopes of all aspects, at elevations of greater than 1370 m (4500 feet) (Russell 1953, Whittaker 1956, Crandall 1958). High rainfall and low temperatures create mesic conditions. Strong winds and ice storms periodically damage these forests, creating canopy gaps and contributing to its stunted appearance. This community commonly occurs as small patches surrounded by other forest types, montane grasslands and shrublands. In North Carolina, Burton series (Typic Haplumbrept) soils support the Southern Appalachian Beech Gap (Schafale and Weakley 1990). The soil is generally greater than 20 cm deep. The pH ranges from 4.5-6.0, which is considerably less acidic than the adjacent Red Spruce-Fraser Fir Forests (Russell 1953). Leaf mold is thinner compared to the spruce-fir ecosystems. Also lacking is the accumulation of peat or excessive depth of litter (Russell 1953).


Dynamic Processes

Dynamics: Extreme exposure to wind and storms contribute to the high number of wind-blown trees and the stunted nature of the canopy. Frequent damage caused by wind and ice create gaps in the canopy. The origin and maintenance of this community has been debated by ecologists. It has been proposed that beech gaps became established during warmer climates of 7000-900 BC, and that they were once more extensive than today (Flint 1957 in Schofield 1960). Russell (1953) concluded that cold and high winds were responsible for the occurrence of these forests. Fuller (1977) suggested that the allelopathic effects of beech litter may be a factor in maintaining this community. Due to the extreme environment, growth and reproduction of Fagus grandifolia are relatively slow in this mid to late successional community. Despite their small size, canopy trees may be quite old. Although beech nuts may be produced by the larger trees, reproduction of beech appears to be almost entirely vegetative from root or stump sprouts (Russell 1953). Small canopy gaps within this type are commonly invaded by a dense thicket of Rubus canadensis.


Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank


Authors/Contributors
Concept Author(s): K.D. Patterson
Element Description Edition Date: 23Feb2010
Element Description Author(s): K.D. Patterson
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 01Nov2002
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): K.D. Patterson, mod. R. White

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


References
  • Allard, D. J. 1990. Southeastern United States ecological community classification. Interim report, Version 1.2. The Nature Conservancy, Southeast Regional Office, Chapel Hill, NC. 96 pp.

  • Allard, D. J., K. M. Doyle, S. J. Landaal, and R. S. Martin. 1990. Community characterization abstracts for the southeastern United States. Unpublished manuscript. The Nature Conservancy, Southern Heritage Task Force, Chapel Hill, NC.

  • Bratton, S. P. 1975. The effect of the European wild boar, Sus scrofa, on Gray beech forest in the Great Smoky Mountains. Ecology 56:1356-1366.

  • Crandall, D. L. 1958. Ground vegetation patterns of the spruce-fir area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ecological Monographs 28:337-360.

  • Davis, J. H., Jr. 1930. Vegetation of the Black Mountains of North Carolina: An ecological study. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 45:291-318.

  • Eyre, F. H., editor. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Society of American Foresters, Washington, DC. 148 pp.

  • Fleming, G. P., and K. D. Patterson. 2009a. A vegetation classification for the Appalachian Trail: Virginia south to Georgia. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage. In-house analysis, March 2009.

  • Fuller, R. D. 1977. Why does spruce not invade the high elevation beech forests of the Great Smoky Mountains? M.S. thesis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 64 pp.

  • Golden, M. S. 1981. An integrated multivariate analysis of forest communities of the central Great Smoky Mountains. The American Midland Naturalist 106:37-53.

  • Lindsay, M. M., and S. P. Bratton. 1979a. Grassy balds of the Great Smoky Mountains: Their history and flora in relation to potential management. Environmental Management 3:417-430.

  • McLeod, D. E. 1988. Vegetation patterns, floristics, and environmental relationships in the Black and Craggy mountains of North Carolina. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 222 pp.

  • Peet, R. K., T. R. Wentworth, M. P. Schafale, and A.S. Weakley. No date. Unpublished data of the North Carolina Vegetation Survey. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

  • Pittillo, J. D., and G. A. Smathers. 1979. Phytogeography of the Balsam Mountains and Pisgah Ridge, southern Appalachian Mountains. Pages 206-245 in: H. Lieth and E. Landolt, editors. Proceedings of the 16th International phytogeographic excursion. Veroff. Geobot. Inst., Stiftung Rubel, Zurich.

  • Pyne, M. 1994. Tennessee natural communities. Unpublished document. Tennessee Department of Conservation, Ecology Service Division, Nashville. 7 pp.

  • Ramseur, G. S. 1960. The vascular flora of high mountain communities of the Southern Appalachians. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 76:82-112.

  • Rawinski, T. J. 1992. A classification of Virginia's indigenous biotic communities: Vegetated terrestrial, palustrine, and estuarine community classes. Unpublished document. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage. Natural Heritage Technical Report No. 92-21. Richmond, VA. 25 pp.

  • Rheinhardt, R. D. 1981. The vegetation of the Balsam Mountains of Southwest Virginia: A phytosociological study. M.A. thesis. College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. 146 pp.

  • Russell, N. H. 1953. The beech gaps of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ecology 34:366-374.

  • Schafale, M. 1998b. Fourth approximation guide. High mountain communities. March 1998 draft. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh.

  • Schafale, M. P. 2012. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina, 4th Approximation. North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, 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.

  • Schafale, Mike P. Personal communication. Ecologist, North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh.

  • Schofield, W. B. 1960. The ecotone between spruce-fir and deciduous forest in the Great Smoky Mountains. Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, Durham, NC. 176 pp.

  • Singer, F. J., W. T. Swank, and E. E. C. Clebsch. 1984. Effects of wild pig rooting in a deciduous forest. Journal of Wildlife Management 48:464-473.

  • Southeastern Ecology Working Group of NatureServe. No date. International Ecological Classification Standard: International Vegetation Classification. Terrestrial Vegetation. NatureServe, Durham, NC.

  • TDNH [Tennessee Division of Natural Heritage]. No date. Unpublished data. Tennessee Division of Natural Heritage, Nashville, TN.

  • USFS [U.S. Forest Service]. 1988. Silvicultural examination and prescription field book. USDA Forest Service, Southern Region. Atlanta, GA. 35 pp.

  • White, P. S., E. R. Buckner, J. D. Pittillo, and C. V. Cogbill. 1993. High-elevation forests: Spruce-fir forests, northern hardwoods forests, and associated communities. Pages 305-337 in: W. H. Martin, S. G. Boyce, and A. C. Echternacht, editors. Biodiversity of the southeastern United States: Upland terrestrial communities. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

  • White, Rickie. Personal communication. Regional Ecologist. NatureServe, Southeast Regional Office, Durham, NC.

  • Whittaker, R. H. 1956. Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ecological Monographs 26:1-80.


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