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Picea rubens - (Betula alleghaniensis, Aesculus flava) / Rhododendron (maximum, catawbiense) Forest
Translated Name: Red Spruce - (Yellow Birch, Yellow Buckeye) / (Great Laurel, Catawba Rosebay) Forest
Common Name: Red Spruce - Northern Hardwood Forest (Shrub Type)
Unique Identifier: CEGL004983
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This association occurs in the broad elevational transition zone between spruce-fir and northern hardwoods in the Southern Blue Ridge (approx. 1400-1550 m [4600-5100 feet]). Sites are steep to very steep, slopes often associated with cliff faces, rock outcroppings, or bouldery situations, and subject to disturbance by wind, ice, and landslides. The canopy is composed of Picea rubens codominating with deciduous species Betula alleghaniensis, Fagus grandifolia, and Aesculus flava, occurring singly or in combination. At higher elevations, Abies fraseri may be a minor canopy component. The shrub layer is well-developed and dominated by Rhododendron maximum or Rhododendron catawbiense. In the Great Smoky Mountains, Leucothoe fontanesiana can be the dominant shrub. Other minor shrubs include Ilex montana, Viburnum lantanoides, Vaccinium erythrocarpum, and Rubus allegheniensis. The thick, evergreen shrub layer precludes the establishment of seedlings or herbaceous plants and creates a heavy, slowly decomposing litter layer. Bryophyte cover can be high (over 50%), and the ground is covered with downed and decaying logs.


Classification Confidence: Low
Classification Comments: This association should be compared with other vegetation farther north in the Appalachians. Examples of this community on more exposed, rocky sites may transition to heath shrublands. At high elevations, this community grades into Picea rubens-dominated forests. Similar vegetation has been observed and sampled on Beartown, Clinch Mountain in Tazewell County, Virginia (1433 m [4700 feet] elevation), and this association was added to the Virginia State Classification (Fleming and Patterson 2012) based on that observation. Data collected by Steve Adams and Steve Stephenson in the 1980s from spruce forests with a Rhododendron catawbiense shrub layer on Beartown, Clinch Mountain in Russell County, Virginia (1403 m [4600 feet] elevation) also seem to match this type and will be targeted for inventory by Virginia DNH ecologists. These sites are out of the range of Abies fraseri and have considerable hardwood codominance in places, so Picea rubens - (Abies fraseri) / (Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron maximum) Forest (CEGL007130) was not applicable, though it has been documented on Whitetop Mountain, Virginia.

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 Laurentian-Acadian Mesic Hardwood - Conifer Forest
Group Central & Southern Appalachian Red Spruce - Fir - Hardwood Forest
Alliance Central Appalachian Red Spruce Forest

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

Similar Associations
Unique Identifier Name
CEGL006256 Picea rubens - (Betula alleghaniensis, Aesculus flava) / Viburnum lantanoides / Solidago glomerata Forest
CEGL007861 Betula alleghaniensis - (Tsuga canadensis) / Rhododendron maximum / (Leucothoe fontanesiana) 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:
Information from programs in other jurisdictions will be posted when they are made available.
Subnation Concept Name Relationship to Standard Confidence Reference
North Carolina Red Spruce--Fraser Fir Forest (Birch Transition Shrub Subtype) Equivalent Certain Schafale 2012

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES202.028 Central and Southern Appalachian Spruce-Fir Forest

NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: G1? (02Jan2013)
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: The community is geographically and environmentally restricted to the highest elevations of the Southern Blue Ridge and, in southwestern Virginia, to the highest elevations of Clinch Mountain in the Ridge and Valley province. Very few occurrences are known to exist, and it has only been described from the Great Smoky Mountains and the Beartown Wilderness in southwestern Virginia.

Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: NC, TN, VA
Global Distribution: United States
Global Range: This association is known from the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Clinch Mountain in southwestern Virginia, and the Blue Ridge of North Carolina.

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: Blue Ridge Mountains Section
Section Code: M221D Occurrence Status: Confident or certain


Vegetation Summary: Virginia stands on Clinch Mountain are codominated by Picea rubens (most abundant), with variable codominance by Betula alleghaniensis and Fagus grandifolia. In some areas, Picea rubens dominates the canopy and hardwoods dominate a lower, subcanopy layer. Sorbus americana is a minor understory tree. The shrub layer is dense with Rhododendron maximum generally dominant and Rhododendron catawbiense codominant in many areas. Other shrubs occurring at low cover include Acer pensylvanicum, Kalmia latifolia, and Vaccinium simulatum. The ground is thickly covered by coarse woody debris and bryophytes, with few herbaceous species present.

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Aesculus flava G1 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Betula alleghaniensis G1 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy  
Fagus grandifolia G1 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Abies fraseri G1 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy      
Picea rubens G1 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy  
Rhododendron catawbiense G1 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Tall shrub/sapling    
Rhododendron maximum G1 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Tall shrub/sapling  
Ageratina altissima var. roanensis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Rugelia nudicaulis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Solidago glomerata G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Streptopus lanceolatus var. roseus G1 Flowering forb 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)
Ageratina altissima var. roanensis
  (Appalachian White Snakeroot)
Rugelia nudicaulis
  (Rugel's Ragwort)
Solidago glomerata
  (Skunk Goldenrod)

Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: N
Environmental Summary: In southwestern Virginia, the type occurs at the highest elevations (1340-1433 m [4400-4700 feet]) of the Ridge and Valley on summits and upper slopes of Clinch Mountain. Soils are organic and shallow to bedrock.

Dynamic Processes

Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank

Concept Author(s): K.D. Patterson
Element Description Edition Date: 02Jan2013
Element Description Author(s): K.D. Patterson and G.P. Fleming
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 02Jan2013
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): K.D. Patterson, mod. G.P. Fleming

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

  • Fleming, G. P., and K. D. Patterson. 2012. Natural communities of Virginia: Ecological groups and community types. Natural Heritage Technical Report 12-04. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, VA. 36 pp.

  • Golden, M. S. 1974. Forest vegetation and site relationships in the central portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 275 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.

  • Livingston, D., and C. Mitchell. 1976. Site classification and mapping in the Mt. LeConte growth district, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unpublished report. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Library.

  • NatureServe Ecology - Southeastern United States. No date. Unpublished data. NatureServe, Durham, NC.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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Data last updated: November 2016