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Betula alleghaniensis - (Tsuga canadensis) / Rhododendron maximum / (Leucothoe fontanesiana) Forest
Translated Name: Yellow Birch - (Eastern Hemlock) / Great Laurel / (Highland Doghobble) Forest
Common Name: Blue Ridge Hemlock - Northern Hardwood Forest
Unique Identifier: CEGL007861
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This association occurs in the Great Smoky Mountains and high mountain areas of southwestern Virginia, and at lower elevations in protected mountain settings in West Virginia. This community is found on steep, mostly north-facing slopes, and on slopes and flats along and above streams. These forests occur on midslope or toeslope positions, protected by higher landforms, where solar exposure is very low. The elevations of samples range from as low as 320 m in West Virginia (1040 feet) to around 1350 m (4400 feet), but the community can probably occur as high as 1524 m (5000 feet) or until Picea rubens begins to dominate. Sites are rocky, often with many large boulders and talus. Soils are stony with heavy litter layers and pockets of colluvium. This forest is affected by occasional disturbance by ice, wind and landslides. This mixed forest type has an open to closed canopy dominated by Betula alleghaniensis and/or Tsuga canadensis, although either of these species may be locally dominant at a small scale. In some stands, Acer rubrum, Betula lenta, Liriodendron tulipifera (at lower elevations), Tilia americana var. heterophylla, Picea rubens, or Quercus rubra can be important in the canopy or occur as minor associates. Other minor canopy and subcanopy species may include Fagus grandifolia, Prunus serotina, and Magnolia acuminata. The tall-shrub stratum is over 2 m in height, very dense (50-100% coverage) and dominated by Rhododendron maximum. Other minor shrubs commonly include Acer pensylvanicum, Amelanchier laevis, Amelanchier arborea, Clethra acuminata, Hamamelis virginiana (West Virginia), Ilex montana, and Vaccinium erythrocarpum. The ground layer is dominated by leaf litter, fallen trees and rocks. Herbaceous cover is sparse to moderate and is composed of scattered plants typical of mid- to high-elevation acidic forests. Composition can be quite variable among stands, but some of the more characteristic species include Dryopteris intermedia, Oclemena acuminata, Polystichum acrostichoides (West Virginia), Viola blanda, and Viola rotundifolia. The bryophyte layer can be well-developed and diverse. This association grades into forests dominated by Picea rubens or Tsuga canadensis at higher elevations.



Classification

Classification Confidence: Moderate
Classification Comments: This association is a high-elevation acidic cove forest and is characterized by species indicative of montane, infertile environments, a dense shrub layer of Rhododendron maximum, and a mixed deciduous-evergreen to mostly deciduous canopy. Species richness is typically low, ranging from 4 to 38 species per sample with an average of 19 species per 400-square-meter sample. Analysis of plot samples from the Great Smoky and Virginia mountains, and from Fayette and Raleigh counties, West Virginia, shows the most constant species as Betula alleghaniensis, Rhododendron maximum, Tsuga canadensis, and Dryopteris intermedia.

Some stands in West Virginia may be better classified as Tsuga canadensis - Betula alleghaniensis - Prunus serotina / Rhododendron maximum Forest (CEGL006206), a seemingly more diverse and lower-elevation type. Forests of high-elevation coves at Salt Pond Mountain in Giles County (e.g., War Spur Branch), where Picea rubens is codominant with or subordinate to Tsuga canadensis and Betula alleghaniensis, are tentatively placed here. Some of these stands, however, may be better classified as wetlands and require additional investigation.


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
CEGL004983 Picea rubens - (Betula alleghaniensis, Aesculus flava) / Rhododendron (maximum, catawbiense) Forest
CEGL006206 Tsuga canadensis - Betula alleghaniensis - Prunus serotina / Rhododendron maximum Forest
CEGL006256 Picea rubens - (Betula alleghaniensis, Aesculus flava) / Viburnum lantanoides / Solidago glomerata Forest
CEGL006638 Tsuga canadensis - Betula alleghaniensis - Acer saccharum / Dryopteris intermedia Forest
CEGL006639 Tsuga canadensis - Acer saccharum - Fagus grandifolia / Dryopteris intermedia Forest
CEGL007543 Liriodendron tulipifera - Betula lenta - Tsuga canadensis / Rhododendron maximum Forest
CEGL007693 Tsuga canadensis - Halesia tetraptera - Magnolia fraseri / Rhododendron maximum / Dryopteris intermedia Forest
CEGL008501 Picea rubens / Betula alleghaniensis / Bazzania trilobata Forest
CEGL008513 Tsuga canadensis - (Betula alleghaniensis, Quercus rubra) / Ilex montana / Rhododendron catawbiense Forest
CEGL008558 Acer rubrum var. rubrum - Betula lenta - Magnolia fraseri / (Rhododendron maximum, Kalmia latifolia) Ruderal 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 Acidic Cove Forest (High Elevation Subtype) Equivalent Certain Schafale 2012


Other Related Concepts
Related Concept Name: Betula alleghaniensis - Tsuga canadensis - (Picea rubens) / Rhododendron maximum Forest
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Fleming, G. P., and P. P. Coulling. 2001. Ecological communities of the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, Virginia. Preliminary classification and description of vegetation types. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, VA. 317 pp.
Related Concept Name: Betula alleghaniensis - Tsuga canadensis / Rhododendron maximum Forest
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: 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]
Related Concept Name: Betula alleghaniensis / Oxalis montana Association: Betula alleghaniensis / Rhododendron maximum Variant
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Fleming, G. P., and W. H. Moorhead, III. 1996. Ecological land units of the Laurel Fork Area, Highland County, Virginia. Natural Heritage Technical Report 96-08. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond. 114 pp. plus appendices.
Related Concept Name: Betula alleghaniensis / Rhododendron maximum forest
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Vanderhorst, J. 2001b. Plant communities of the New River Gorge National River, West Virginia: Northern and southern thirds. Non-game Wildlife and Natural Heritage Program, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Elkins. 146 pp.
Related Concept Name: Hemlock - Yellow Birch: 24
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: High-Elevation Cove Forest
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Fleming, G. P., P. P. Coulling, D. P. Walton, K. M. McCoy, and M. R. Parrish. 2001. The natural communities of Virginia: Classification of ecological community groups. First approximation. Natural Heritage Technical Report 01-1. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, VA. 76 pp.
Related Concept Name: Red Spruce Community: Hemlock - Spruce Subtype
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Adams, H. S., and S. L. Stephenson. 1991. High elevation coniferous forests in Virginia. Virginia Journal of Science 42:391-399.

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES202.029 Southern Appalachian Northern Hardwood Forest
CES202.593 Appalachian (Hemlock)-Northern Hardwood Forest


NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: G3 (23May2011)
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: This community type is naturally uncommon within its range due to specific requirements for protected, mesic sites at high elevations. Most remaining examples of this community have been affected by past logging and are currently threatened with the loss of their Tsuga canadensis component due to ongoing or potential infestations by the exotic pest hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). This community type has a restricted but locally extensive distribution in the highest mountains of southwestern and west-central Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee. This association was originally described from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: NC, TN, VA, WV
Global Distribution: United States
Global Range: This community has been documented in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee; in the Mount Rogers - Whitetop Mountain area of the Virginia Blue Ridge (Grayson, Smyth and Washington counties); on Salt Pond Mountain in the Ridge and Valley of west-central Virginia (Giles County); on Allegheny Mountain in Highland County, Virginia, and adjacent Pocahontas County, West Virginia; and in Fayette County, West Virginia, along and near the New River Gorge, and along Gauley River in West Virginia. This vegetation type may be locally distributed throughout higher elevations of the Southern and Central Appalachians.

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: 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 mixed forest has an open to closed canopy codominated by Betula alleghaniensis and/or Tsuga canadensis, although either of these species may be solely dominant over small areas. In some stands, Acer rubrum, Betula lenta, Liriodendron tulipifera (at lower elevations), Tilia americana var. heterophylla, Picea rubens, or Quercus rubra can be important in the canopy or occur as minor associates. Other minor canopy and subcanopy species may include Fagus grandifolia, Prunus serotina, and Magnolia acuminata. The community has a very dense (50-100% cover), evergreen tall-shrub stratum (>2 m tall) dominated by Rhododendron maximum. In the Great Smoky Mountains, a dense low-shrub stratum dominated by Leucothoe fontanesiana is typical, but this species is absent from Virginia and West Virginia examples of the type. Other minor shrubs commonly include Acer pensylvanicum, Amelanchier laevis, Hamamelis virginiana (in West Virginia stands), Ilex montana, and Vaccinium erythrocarpum. Herbaceous cover is sparse to occasionally moderate and is composed of scattered plants typical of mid- to high-elevation acidic forests. Composition can be quite variable among stands, but some of the more characteristic species include Dryopteris intermedia, Oclemena acuminata, Polystichum acrostichoides (in West Virginia stands), Viola blanda, and Viola rotundifolia. Some additional herbaceous species found in this community include Arisaema triphyllum, Dennstaedtia punctilobula, Huperzia lucidula, and Medeola virginiana. In Southern Appalachian stands with very dense evergreen shrub layers, species richness can be extraordinarily low (<10 taxa per 1000-square-meter sample), but in stands with somewhat more open shrub layers, richness can exceed 30 taxa per sample. The bryophyte layer can be well-developed and diverse; mosses and liverworts collected from West Virginia plots include Anomodon attenuatus, Aulacomnium heterostichum, Bryhnia graminicolor, Bryoandersonia illecebra, Campylium chrysophyllum, Hypnum curvifolium, Hypnum imponens, Loeskeobryum brevirostre, Mnium stellare, Plagiothecium denticulatum, Platyhypnidium riparioides, Thuidium delicatulum, Bazzania trilobata, Leucobryum glaucum, and Mnium hornum. The regionally rare plants Botrychium oneidense and Prenanthes roanensis are minor components of this vegetation type.

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
eristic
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Betula alleghaniensis G3 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy
 
 
Betula lenta G3 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Magnolia fraseri G3 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Abies fraseri G3 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy      
 
 
Picea rubens G3 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Tsuga canadensis G3 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Ribes cynosbati G3 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Rhododendron maximum G3 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Tall shrub/sapling  
 
 
Geum geniculatum G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Hypericum mitchellianum G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Mitchella repens G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Oxalis montana G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Prenanthes roanensis G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Tiarella cordifolia G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Viola rotundifolia G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Botrychium oneidense G3 Fern (Spore-bearing forb) Herb (field)    
 
 
Dryopteris intermedia G3 Fern (Spore-bearing forb) Herb (field)    
 
 
Polypodium appalachianum G3 Fern (Spore-bearing forb) Herb (field)    
 
 
Polypodium virginianum G3 Fern (Spore-bearing forb) Herb (field)    
 
 
Polystichum acrostichoides G3 Fern (Spore-bearing 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)
G2  
Geum geniculatum
  (Bent Avens)
G2  
Hypericum mitchellianum
  (Blue Ridge St. John's-wort)
G3  
Prenanthes roanensis
  (Roan Mountain Rattlesnake-root)
G3  


Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: N
Environmental Summary: This community occurs on steep, mostly north-facing mesic slopes, and on toeslopes and flats along streams. It typically occupies mid- to lower slope and valley-bottom topographic positions that are well-protected by higher landforms. These sites have low solar exposure and may be subject to cold-air inversions. Elevations (of plot-sampled stands) range from 320-750 m (1040-2400 feet) in West Virginia, to 915-1450 m (3000-4800 feet) in the Virginia mountains, and to 1030-1450 m (3400-4800 feet) in the Great Smoky Mountains. Lower elevation stands may intergrade with Betula lenta-dominated forest types. Sites are often rocky, with many large boulders and stones and pockets of colluvium. Soils, weathered from sandstone, acidic shale, or metamorphic igneous rocks, have dense, root-rich duff layers. Samples collected from plots are highly acidic (mean pH = 3.7 to 4.8) with low base status and moderately high organic matter content (mean = 20%). On stream-bottom sites, local areas of seepage are not uncommon, and habitats may be somewhat transitional to a saturated hydrologic regime. Sites occupied by this forest are affected by occasional ice, wind, and landslide disturbances.


Dynamic Processes

Dynamics: The Tsuga canadensis component of Virginia stands has been devastated by outbreaks of hemlock woolly adelgid over the past several decades, leading to more open canopy conditions, along with increased regeneration and greater importance of Betula alleghaniensis in most stands.


Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank


Authors/Contributors
Concept Author(s): G. Fleming and P. Coulling
Element Description Edition Date: 09Apr2010
Element Description Author(s): G. Fleming, P. Coulling, S.C. Gawler and K.D. Patterson
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 23May2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author(s): K. Patterson, mod. G. Fleming and L. Sneddon

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


References
  • Adams, H. S., and S. L. Stephenson. 1991. High elevation coniferous forests in Virginia. Virginia Journal of Science 42:391-399.

  • 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., P. P. Coulling, D. P. Walton, K. M. McCoy, and M. R. Parrish. 2001. The natural communities of Virginia: Classification of ecological community groups. First approximation. Natural Heritage Technical Report 01-1. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, VA. 76 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]

  • 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.

  • Fleming, G. P., and K. D. Patterson. 2011a. Natural communities of Virginia: Ecological groups and community types. Natural Heritage Technical Report 11-07. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond. 34 pp.

  • Fleming, G. P., and P. P. Coulling. 2001. Ecological communities of the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, Virginia. Preliminary classification and description of vegetation types. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, VA. 317 pp.

  • Fleming, G. P., and W. H. Moorhead, III. 1996. Ecological land units of the Laurel Fork Area, Highland County, Virginia. Natural Heritage Technical Report 96-08. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond. 114 pp. plus appendices.

  • Grafton, W. N., and C. McGraw. 1976. The vascular flora of New River Gorge, West Virginia. Center for Extension and Continuing Education, West Virginia University, Beckley. 19 pp.

  • 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.

  • Newell, C. L. 1997. Local and regional variation in the vegetation of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 1008 pp.

  • Newell, C. L., R. K. Peet, and J. C. Harrod. 1997. Vegetation of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, North Carolina. Unpublished report to USDA Forest Service. University of North Carolina, Curriculum in Ecology & Department of Biology, Chapel Hill, NC. 282 pp. plus maps.

  • 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.

  • VDNH [Virginia Division of Natural Heritage]. 2003. The natural communities of Virginia: Hierarchical classification of community types. Unpublished document, working list of November 2003. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Ecology Group, Richmond.

  • Vanderhorst, J. 2001b. Plant communities of the New River Gorge National River, West Virginia: Northern and southern thirds. Non-game Wildlife and Natural Heritage Program, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Elkins. 146 pp.

  • Vanderhorst, J. P., B. P. Streets, Z. Arcaro, and S. C. Gawler. 2010. Vegetation classification and mapping at Gauley River National Recreation Area. Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR--2010/148. National Park Service, Philadelphia, PA.

  • Vanderhorst, J. P., J. Jeuck, and S. C. Gawler. 2007. Vegetation classification and mapping of New River Gorge National River, West Virginia. Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR-2007/092. National Park Service, Philadelphia, PA. 396 pp.


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