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Abies fraseri / (Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron carolinianum) Forest
Translated Name: Fraser Fir / (Catawba Rosebay, Carolina Azalea) Forest
Common Name: Fraser Fir Forest (Evergreen Shrub Type)
Unique Identifier: CEGL006308
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This community occurs as island-like stands in the southern Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina. It occurs on rocky spurs, steep ridges, and south-facing slopes above 1830 m (6000 feet) elevation, often adjacent to montane shrublands. This forest has a canopy strongly dominated by Abies fraseri, occurring over a shrub stratum dominated by evergreen species, typically Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron carolinianum, or Rhododendron maximum. Abies fraseri in the canopy are 17-23 cm in diameter and 10-11 m tall, giving these forests a stunted appearance. Other species that may occur with low coverage in the canopy or subcanopy are Picea rubens, Sorbus americana, Betula alleghaniensis, Prunus pensylvanica. Herbaceous cover is typically sparse. On steep, rocky, northerly slopes, coverage by mosses, liverworts, and lichens can approach 100%. Bryophyte species include Hylocomium splendens, Ptilium crista-castrensis, Sphagnum spp., and Polytrichum ohioense. This forest may grade into forests dominated by Picea rubens and Abies fraseri, montane grasslands, high-elevation shrublands, or high-elevation rock outcrop communities.



Classification

Classification Confidence: Moderate

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 Southern Appalachian Spruce-Fir Forest

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

Similar Associations
Unique Identifier Name
CEGL006049 Abies fraseri / Viburnum lantanoides / Dryopteris campyloptera - Oxalis montana / Hylocomium splendens Forest
CEGL007130 Picea rubens - (Abies fraseri) / (Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron maximum) Forest
CEGL007131 Picea rubens - (Abies fraseri) / Vaccinium erythrocarpum / Dryopteris campyloptera / Hylocomium splendens 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 Fraser Fir Forest (Rhododendron Subtype) Equivalent Certain Schafale 2012


Other Related Concepts
Related Concept Name: Abies fraseri / (Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron carolinianum) 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: Fraser Fir (6)
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: USFS [U.S. Forest Service]. 1988. Silvicultural examination and prescription field book. USDA Forest Service, Southern Region. Atlanta, GA. 35 pp.
Related Concept Name: Fraser Fir Forest (Evergreen Shrub Type)
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: Fraser Fir Forest (Rhododendron 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: Fraser Fir Forest, Evergreen Shrub Type
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Pyne, M. 1994. Tennessee natural communities. Unpublished document. Tennessee Department of Conservation, Ecology Service Division, Nashville. 7 pp.
Related Concept Name: IA4b. Fraser Fir Forest
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: Red Spruce - Fraser Fir: 34
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.

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 (04Jan2000)
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: This community has a naturally restricted distribution, occurring only on the highest elevation peaks of the southern Appalachian Mountains. It exists in only a small portion of its original range due to the impact of early 20th century, post-logging fires and the ongoing outbreak of balsam woolly adelgid, an exotic pest that infests and kills mature Abies fraseri. Well-developed, undisturbed examples of this community are extremely rare. Most remaining examples of this community exist as patches of dense young trees or dense Rubus thickets beneath forests of dead snags or tangles of fallen logs.

Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: NC, TN
Global Distribution: United States
Global Range: This community occurs as island-like stands on the highest areas, above 1830 m (6000 feet), in the southern Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia. It is extremely limited in distribution and is restricted to the following mountain areas: Great Smoky Mountains, Black Mountains, Balsam Mountain, Plott Balsam Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and Mount Rogers (Ramseur 1960).

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

Vegetation Summary: This needle-leaved evergreen forest has greater than 75% canopy coverage by Abies fraseri. Abies fraseri in the canopy are 17-23 cm in diameter and 10-11 m tall, giving these forests a stunted appearance. Other species that may occur with low coverage in the canopy or subcanopy are Picea rubens, Sorbus americana, Betula alleghaniensis, Prunus pensylvanica. The tall-shrub stratum is dominated by evergreen species and, although there may be considerable variation, is usually quite dense. Typical shrub dominants include Rhododendron catawbiense, Rhododendron carolinianum, and Rhododendron maximum. Herbaceous cover is typically sparse. On steep, rocky, northerly slopes, coverage by mosses, liverworts, and lichens can approach 100%. Bryophyte species include Hylocomium splendens, Ptilium crista-castrensis, Sphagnum spp., and Polytrichum ohioense. Rare or regionally rare vascular plant species associated with this community include Abies fraseri, Betula papyrifera var. cordifolia, Cardamine clematitis, Glyceria nubigena, Phegopteris connectilis, Poa palustris, Rhododendron vaseyi, Stachys clingmanii, and Streptopus amplexifolius. Rare nonvascular plants include Bazzania nudicaulis, Brachydontium trichodes, Leptodontium excelsum, Metzgeria temperata, Nardia scalaris, Plagiochila corniculata, and Sphenolobopsis pearsonii.

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
eristic
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Betula papyrifera var. cordifolia G1 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy      
 
 
Abies fraseri G1 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy  
 
 
Rhododendron vaseyi G1 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)      
 
 
Rhododendron catawbiense G1 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Tall shrub/sapling  
 
 
Rhododendron maximum G1 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Tall shrub/sapling  
 
 
Rhododendron carolinianum G1 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Tall shrub/sapling  
 
 
Ageratina altissima var. roanensis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Cardamine clematitis G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Solidago glomerata G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Stachys clingmanii G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Streptopus amplexifolius G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Streptopus lanceolatus var. roseus G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Phegopteris connectilis G1 Fern (Spore-bearing forb) Herb (field)      
 
 
Glyceria nubigena G1 Graminoid Herb (field)      
 
 
Poa palustris G1 Graminoid Herb (field)      
 
 
Bazzania nudicaulis G1 Liverwort/hornwort Nonvascular      
 
 
Metzgeria temperata G1 Liverwort/hornwort Nonvascular      
 
 
Nardia scalaris G1 Liverwort/hornwort Nonvascular      
 
 
Plagiochila corniculata G1 Liverwort/hornwort Nonvascular      
 
 
Sphenolobopsis pearsonii G1 Liverwort/hornwort Nonvascular      
 
 
Brachydontium trichodes G1 Moss Nonvascular      
 
 
Hylocomium splendens G1 Moss Nonvascular    
 
 
Leptodontium excelsum G1 Moss Nonvascular      
 
 


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  
Bazzania nudicaulis
  (a liverwort)
G2G3  
Brachydontium trichodes
  (Peak Moss)
G2G4  
Cardamine clematitis
  (Small Mountain Bittercress)
G3  
Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus
  (Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel)
G5T2 LE: Listed endangered
Glyceria nubigena
  (Smoky Mountains Mannagrass)
G2G3  
Leptodontium excelsum
  (Grandfather Mountain Leptodontium)
G2  
Microhexura montivaga
  (Spruce-fir Moss Spider)
G1 LE: Listed endangered
Plethodon welleri
  (Weller's Salamander)
G3  
Rhododendron vaseyi
  (Pink-shell Azalea)
G3  
Solidago glomerata
  (Skunk Goldenrod)
G3  
Sphenolobopsis pearsonii
  (Horsehair Threadwort)
G2?  
Stachys clingmanii
  (Clingman's Hedge-nettle)
G2  

Vegetation Structure
Stratum Growth Form
Height of Stratum (m)
Cover
Class
%
Min
Cover %
Max
Cover %
Tree canopy Other/unknown
 
 
 
 
Tall shrub/sapling Shrub
 
 
 
 
Nonvascular Other/unknown
 
 
 
 


Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: N
Environmental Summary: These forests occur on rocky spurs, steep ridges, and south-facing slopes above 1830 m (6000 feet) elevation, often adjacent to montane shrublands. These forests occur on all topographic positions except the steepest rocky cliffs of the highest summits. Soils that support this community are classified as Inceptisols and are shallow, rocky, and often have a thick organic layer. Moisture regimes are mesic to wet, due to high rainfall, abundant cloud cover, fog deposition, and low temperatures. This forest may grade into forests dominated by Picea rubens and Abies fraseri, montane grasslands, high-elevation shrublands, or high-elevation rock outcrop communities.


Dynamic Processes

Dynamics: This community is affected by debris avalanches, wind disturbance and lightning fire. Because of the shallow soils and extreme wind exposure, this forest is susceptible to large blowdowns. Logging and damage by the balsam woolly adelgid has greatly increased the effect of natural windfall. An exotic insect, the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), invaded the Southern Appalachians in the late 1950s and has drastically altered the last undisturbed remnants of this community. This exotic pest kills mature Abies fraseri within seven years of infestation. This community is a late-successional type, but it is subject to repeated disturbance. Prunus pensylvanica is a dominant species immediately following disturbance. In later successional stages, Betula alleghaniensis increases in dominance. In areas where mature Abies fraseri has been lost to woolly adelgid infestation, thickets of Rubus spp., Abies fraseri seedlings and saplings, Betula alleghaniensis, and Sorbus americana are dominant. Over time, Picea rubens, Betula alleghaniensis, Abies fraseri, Acer spicatum, and Sorbus americana increase in the tree layer, while Abies fraseri, Menziesia pilosa, Rubus idaeus ssp. strigosus, and Sambucus racemosa increase in the shrub layer (White et al. 1993). Succession is especially slow after severe disturbance such as logging and slash fires. The most severely disturbed sites are predominately Prunus pensylvanica and Rubus spp. and may remain in a non-forested stage of succession for 60 years or more.


Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank


Authors/Contributors
Concept Author(s): K.D. Patterson
Element Description Edition Date: 04Nov1994
Element Description Author(s): K.D. Patterson
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 04Jan2000
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): K.D. Patterson

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.

  • Anderson, L. E., H. A. Crum, and W. R. Buck. 1990. List of mosses of North America north of Mexico. The Bryologist 93:448-499.

  • Braun, E. L. 1950. Deciduous forests of eastern North America. Hafner Press, New York. 596 pp.

  • Brown, D. M. 1941. Vegetation of Roan Mountain: A phytosociological and successional study. Ecological Monographs 11:61-97.

  • Bruck, R. I. 1988. Interactions of spruce-fir pathogens, insects, and ectomychorrhizae on the etiology and epidemiology of boreal montane forest decline in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Pages 133-143 in: Proceedings of the US/FRG research symposium: Effects of atmospheric pollutants on the spruce-fir forests of the eastern U.S. and the Federal Republic of Germany. General Technical Report NE-120. USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC.

  • Busing, R. T., E. E. C. Clebsch, C. C. Eagar, and E. F. Pauley. 1988. Two decades of change in a Great Smoky Mountains spruce-fir forest. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 115:25-31.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • NCNHP [North Carolina Natural Heritage Program]. 1993. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program biennial protection plan. North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh. 120 pp.

  • Nicholas, N. S., S. M. Zedaker, C. Eagar, and F. T. Bonner. 1992. Seedling recruitment and stand regeneration in spruce-fir forests of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 119:289-299.

  • Oosting, H. J., and W. D. Billings. 1951. A comparison of virgin spruce-fir forest in the Northern and Southern Appalachian system. Ecology 32:84-103.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Weakley, A. S., compiler. 1993. Natural Heritage Program list of the rare plant species of North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program. Raleigh. 79 pp.

  • White, P. 1984a. Impacts of cultural and historic resources on natural diversity: Lessons from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee. Pages 119-132 in: J. L. Cooley and J. H. Cooley, editors. 1984. Natural diversity in forest ecosystems. Proceedings of a workshop. University of Georgia, Institute of Ecology, Athens. 282 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, P. S., and S. T. A. Pickett. 1985. Natural disturbance and patch dynamics: An introduction. Pages 3-13 in: P. S. White and S. T. A. Pickett, editors. The ecology of natural disturbance and patch dynamics. Academic Press, Orlando, FL.

  • White, P. S., editor. 1984b. The Southern Appalachian spruce-fir ecosystem: Its biology and threats. Research/Resource Management Report SER-71. USDI National Park Service. 268 pp.

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


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