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North Atlantic Maritime Erosional Bluff Sparse Vegetation
Translated Name: North Atlantic Maritime Erosional Bluff Sparse Vegetation
Common Name: North Atlantic Maritime Erosional Bluff
Unique Identifier: CEGL006618
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This community includes steep erosional bluffs (also called cliffs) with sparse vegetation occurring on the North Atlantic Coast of the United States and probably into Canada. The coarse sand and gravel substrate is unconsolidated. This community is currently described for Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, but is known to occur on Block Island, Rhode Island, and other Massachusetts islands including Martha's Vineyard and Nomans Land Island.


Classification Confidence: Low - Poorly Documented
Classification Comments: Smilax glauca - Toxicodendron radicans Vine-Shrubland (CEGL003886) may occur as inclusions within this cliff community. The term "bluff" is used for unconsolidated cliffs. This community is equivalent to maritime bluff in New York (Edinger et al. 2014) with examples documented from the north shore and South Fork of Long Island and the south shore of Plum Island.

Vegetation Hierarchy
Class 6 - Open Rock Vegetation
Subclass 6.B - Temperate & Boreal Open Rock Vegetation
Formation 6.B.1 - Temperate & Boreal Cliff, Scree & Other Rock Vegetation
Division 6.B.1.Na - Eastern North American Temperate Cliff, Scree & Rock Vegetation
Macrogroup Eastern North American Cliff & Rock Vegetation
Group Northeastern Erosional Bluff Vegetation
Alliance Eastern North American Erosional Bluff

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

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These data are subject to substantial ongoing revision and may be out of date for some states.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
Massachusetts Maritime Erosional Cliff Community Equivalent   Swain and Kearsley 2001
New York Maritime bluff Equivalent   Edinger et al. 2002
Rhode Island Maritime Bluff Equivalent   Enser and Lundgren 2006

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES203.498 Northeastern Erosional Bluff

NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: GNR (12May2007)
Rounded Global Status: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI
Canadian Province Distribution: NSpotentially occurs
Global Distribution: Canadapotentially occurs, United States
Global Range: This community occurs along the North Atlantic Coast, from New York to Maine, and probably into Maritime Canada.

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: Confident or certain
Section Name: Lower New England Section
Section Code: 221A Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Division Name: Subtropical Division
Province Name: Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Forest Province
Province Code: 232 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Middle Atlantic Coastal Plain Section
Section Code: 232A Occurrence Status: Confident or certain


Vegetation Summary: Plants that occur on bluff faces, such as Achillea millefolium, Artemisia vulgaris, Bromus tectorum, Cirsium arvense, Linaria vulgaris, Poa compressa, Verbascum thapsus, Hieracium caespitosum (= Hieracium pratense), Conyza canadensis, and Solidago rugosa, are typically weedy species that are also common in old fields. Native species may include Solidago sempervirens and Ammophila breviligulata, Atriplex patula, and Equisetum arvense. Scattered shrubs and small trees may be present, including Rhus typhina, Toxicodendron radicans, Prunus serotina, Elaeagnus umbellata, Rosa multiflora, Rubus allegheniensis, Celastrus orbiculatus, and Morella pensylvanica. The bases of the erosional bluffs are often seepy, and moisture-tolerant species are frequently found there. Species found in moist soils at the foot of bluffs include Amelanchier canadensis, Salix bebbiana, Equisetum arvense, Impatiens capensis, Lespedeza capitata, Scutellaria galericulata, Teucrium canadense, and Tussilago farfara. Scattered individuals of Phragmites australis occur in some examples of this community.

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Toxicodendron radicans GNR Liana Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Rhus typhina GNR Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Tall shrub/sapling    
Conyza canadensis GNR Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Lespedeza capitata GNR Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Solidago rugosa GNR Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Bromus tectorum GNR Graminoid Herb (field)    
Poa compressa GNR Graminoid Herb (field)      

Vegetation Structure Summary: Vegetation is open and sparse, with scattered herbs, shrubs and small trees.

Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: N
Environmental Summary: Eroding bluffs are common features on Boston Harbor Islands with steep-sided drumlins. These sheer bluffs consist of unconsolidated sand, gravel and stone. Most have little vegetation and are exposed to salt spray and coastal storms. The soils are poorly developed. Landslides and erosional blowouts are common features on the faces of the bluffs.

Dynamic Processes

Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank

Concept Author(s): E. Largay
Element Description Edition Date: 07Dec2017
Element Description Author(s): T. Elliman and E. Largay

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

  • Eastern Ecology Working Group of NatureServe. No date. International Ecological Classification Standard: International Vegetation Classification. Terrestrial Vegetation. NatureServe, Boston, MA.

  • Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero, editors. 2014a. Ecological communities of New York state. Second edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's ecological communities of New York state. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

  • Elliman, T. 2003. Boston Harbor Islands plant communities. Report submitted to Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, Westborough.

  • Enser, R. W., and J. A. Lundgren. 2006. Natural communities of Rhode Island. A joint project of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Natural Heritage Program and The Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island. Rhode Island Natural History Survey, Kingston. 40 pp. []

  • Largay, E. F., and L. A. Sneddon. 2017. Vegetation mapping and classification of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR--2017/1529. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.

  • Swain, P. C., and J. B. Kearsley. 2014. Classification of the natural communities of Massachusetts. Version 2.0. Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Westborough, MA. []

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Data last updated: March 2019