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Rhododendron maximum Upland Scrub
Translated Name: Great Laurel Upland Scrub
Common Name: Montane Rhododendron Thicket
Unique Identifier: CEGL003819
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This community occurs along streams and on protected slopes in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. It can also occur on xeric ridges and sideslopes, or sites which have been subjected to extreme crown fires or other catastrophic disturbance that has removed the canopy. It is a broad-leaved, evergreen shrubland, dominated by Rhododendron maximum which forms a continuous, dense shrub canopy up to 5 m tall. Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron minus, and Rhododendron catawbiense may also occur as components of the shrub stratum. Shrub vegetation beneath the upper shrub canopy may be open to dense depending on the stand's age and topographic setting. The ground layer is dominated by leaf litter or bare soil, although scattered herbs and woody seedlings do occur. Seedlings and saplings of Rhododendron maximum, Acer rubrum, Betula lenta, Betula alleghaniensis, and Tsuga canadensis are common and typical herbs include Dryopteris intermedia, Heuchera villosa, Viola spp., Thelypteris noveboracensis, Listera smallii, and Galax urceolata. This shrubland is typical along streams and on mesic, unexposed, often north-facing slopes at elevations of approximately 300-1100 m (1000-3000 feet), but can also occur on steep slopes and ridges where natural disturbances have removed the canopy. Soils supporting this community are typically acidic. Occurrences at edges of streams may flood during rainy seasons. This community can occur as the result of disturbance and will succeed to forest with an ericaceous understory without some form of disturbance. This community may have scattered woody species that are greater than 5 m tall but with generally less than 10% total cover.



Classification

Classification Confidence: Low - Poorly Documented
Classification Comments: This Rhododendron maximum shrubland frequently occurs adjacent to wet herbaceous cliff vegetation, riparian shrublands, or within forests dominated by Tsuga canadensis, Quercus rubra, Liriodendron tulipifera, Pinus strobus, Quercus prinus, Picea rubens, or Abies fraseri. Similar ericaceous shrublands occur at higher elevations, over 1100 meters (3500 feet), in the southern Appalachian Mountains. These high-elevation "heath balds" are distinguished from Rhododendron maximum Upland Shrubland by the dominance of Rhododendron catawbiense or by the occurrence of ericaceous shrubs typical of high-elevation environments such as Leiophyllum buxifolium, Menziesia pilosa, and Photinia melanocarpa (= Aronia melanocarpa ). Disjunct populations of Rhododendron maximum are found in Maine and New Hampshire, but these populations may represent a different community (Hodgdon and Pike 1961). Similar vegetation has been observed at 1400 m (4600 feet) elevation on Beartown Mountain (Tazewell County, Virginia), where historical logging and subsequent fires burned Picea / Rhododendron forests, consuming the organic soil and exposing bare rock. Today this site has large areas of dense Rhododendron maximum on ridgecrests and upper slopes, with an occasional spruce tree growing above the shrubs and some shrub-sized spruce regeneration intermixed. These areas are currently treated as a disturbance stage of Picea rubens - (Betula alleghaniensis, Aesculus flava) / Rhododendron (maximum, catawbiense) Forest (CEGL004983).

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-Central Interior Mesic Forest
Alliance Southern Hemlock - Tuliptree Forest

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



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 Low Elevation Heath Bluff (Montane Rhododendron Subtype) Equivalent Certain Schafale 2012
South Carolina Rhododendron Thicket Undetermined   Nelson 1986
Tennessee Rhododendron maximum Upland Shrubland Equivalent Certain TDNH unpubl. data


Other Related Concepts
Related Concept Name: IC4b. Montane Rhododendron Thicket
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
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: Low Elevation Heath Bluff (Montane 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: Submesotrophic Scrub
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.

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES202.593 Appalachian (Hemlock)-Northern Hardwood Forest


NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: G3?Q (14Dec1998)
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: This association is of uncertain validity and, even if valid, is of uncertain circumscription.

Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: GA, NC, SC, TN, VApotentially occurs
Global Distribution: United States
Global Range: This community occurs in the Southern Blue Ridge, but may be possible throughout the range of Rhododendron maximum.

U.S. Forest Service Ecoregions
Domain Name: Humid Temperate Domain
Division Name: Hot Continental Division
Province Name: Eastern Broadleaf Forest (Oceanic) Province
Province Code: 221 Occurrence Status: Predicted or probable
Section Name: Southern Unglaciated Allegheny Plateau Section
Section Code: 221E Occurrence Status: Predicted or probable
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: Confident or certain
Section Name: Allegheny Mountains Section
Section Code: M221B Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Cumberland Mountains Section
Section Code: M221C Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Blue Ridge Mountains Section
Section Code: M221D Occurrence Status: Confident or certain


Vegetation

Vegetation Summary: This evergreen, sclerophyllous shrubland is dominated by Rhododendron maximum which forms a continuous, dense shrub canopy up to 5 m tall. Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron minus, and Rhododendron catawbiense may also occur as components of the shrub stratum. Shrub vegetation beneath the upper shrub canopy may be open to dense depending on the stand's age and topographic setting. Species such as Tsuga canadensis, Pinus strobus, Acer rubrum, Betula lenta, and Liriodendron tulipifera in the tree canopy stratum make up less than 10% cover. The ground layer is dominated by leaf litter or bare soil although scattered herbs and woody seedlings do occur. Seedlings and saplings of Rhododendron maximum, Acer rubrum, Betula lenta, Betula alleghaniensis, and Tsuga canadensis are common, and typical herbs include Dryopteris intermedia, Heuchera villosa, Viola spp., Thelypteris noveboracensis, Listera smallii, and Galax urceolata.

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
eristic
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Rhododendron maximum G3 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Tall shrub/sapling  
 
 


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


Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: N
Environmental Summary: This community occurs along streams and on mesic, unexposed, often north-facing slopes at elevations of approximately 300-1100 m (1000-3000 feet). Soils supporting this community are typically acidic. Occurrences at edges of streams may flood during rainy seasons. It can occur at higher elevations on steep slopes and ridges where extreme crown fires or other catastrophic disturbance have removed the canopy.


Dynamic Processes

Dynamics: Rhododendron maximum sprouts vigorously after disturbance, and this community often results from logging, fire, chestnut blight, or cessation of grazing. Stems greater than 4 cm in diameter survive hot fires, and fire generally stimulates basal sprouting, although intense annual fires may suppress reestablishment (Core 1966). Drastic overstory removal, heavy shading, and disease have been found to decrease the density of or kill Rhododendron (Hodgdon and Pike 1961).

This shrubland will become established by invading disturbed or cleared lands if there is adequate moisture and lack of direct sunlight. This community can also result from secondary succession when a forest's canopy is removed (by logging, disease, etc.) and the Rhododendron understory closes, forming a dense shrubland. The reestablishment of woody competitors is inhibited by the shade of the dense shrub canopy as well as by phytotoxins in the litter and soil (Gant 1978). Rhododendron maximum Shrubland may persist for over 60 years on a site (Plocher and Carvell 1987) but will succeed to a forested community as trees that become established in thicket openings mature.


Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank


Authors/Contributors
Concept Author(s): K.D. Patterson
Element Description Edition Date: 24Feb2010
Element Description Author(s): K.D. Patterson
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 14Dec1998
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): A.S. Weakley

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.

  • Core, E. L. 1966. Vegetation of West Virginia. McClain Printing, Parsons, WV. 217 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.

  • Gant, R. E. 1978. The role of allelopathic interference in the maintenance of Southern Appalachian heath balds. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 123 pp.

  • Hodgdon, A. R., and R. Pike. 1961. An ecological interpretation of Rhododendron colonies in Maine and New Hampshire. Rhodora 63:61-70.

  • McGee, C. E., and R. Smith. 1967. Undisturbed Rhododendron thickets are not spreading. Journal of Forestry 65:334-335.

  • Monk, C. D., D. T. McGinty, and F. P. Day, Jr. 1985. The ecological importance of Kalmia latifolia and Rhododendron maximum in the deciduous forest of the Southern Appalachians. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 112:187-193.

  • Nelson, J. B. 1986. The natural communities of South Carolina: Initial classification and description. South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Columbia, SC. 55 pp.

  • Phillips, D. L., and W. Murdy. 1985. Effects of Rhododendron on regeneration of Southern Appalachian hardwoods. Forest Science 31:226-233.

  • Plocher, A. E., and K. L. Carvell. 1987. Population dynamics of rosebay rhododendron thickets in the Southern Appalachians. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 114:121-126.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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