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Scientific Name: Eastern Serpentine Woodland
Unique Identifier: CES202.347

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Summary: This system consists of distinct vegetation associated with ultramafic rock substrates in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge of the eastern United States. The bedrock is serpentinite, dunite, or other ultramafic rocks. The soil has unusual and extreme chemical composition that includes strongly skewed calcium-to-magnesium ratios and often high levels of heavy metals such as chromium. Most examples are open woodlands with Pinus rigida, Pinus virginiana, and/or Quercus alba, Quercus marilandica, and Quercus stellata in the often stunted canopy. Extreme edaphic conditions lead to locally xerophytic growing conditions that contribute to relatively open canopies and a ground cover dominated by prairie grasses and a variety of forbs. Disjunct species from drier regions and some endemic plant taxa are often present. The unusual and extreme soil chemistry determines the underlying floristics and distinctive flora of the type, but fire frequency, extent, and severity determine the physiognomy of particular examples over time.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: While details of flora vary widely among the scattered examples of this system, all associations have in common a composition that is distinct from communities on other substrates and that is more xeric in aspect. Serpentine substrates support distinctive barren vegetation in most places where they occur. This system is distinguished from serpentine barrens in other regions because of the distinctive flora, as well as the climate, lack of glaciation, and other factors distinct to this region. A closely related Piedmont system, Piedmont Hardpan Woodland and Forest (CES202.268), may be only incompletely distinguished from this system. In this Appalachian system (Quercus stellata) / Schizachyrium scoparium - Packera plattensis - Parthenium auriculatum - Phemeranthus piedmontanus Wooded Grassland (CEGL006084) occurs in both the Appalachians and in the Piedmont.

Ultramafic rock substrate is apparently not sufficient to create this system. Some Piedmont areas with ultramafic rock outcrops on the most mesic sites support mesic forest vegetation not distinguishable from that on other substrates. It may be that these outcrops have less extreme chemistry, or that sufficient moisture levels or a long period without natural disturbance in the form of fire will override the effects of chemistry. The presence of unusually xerophytic or barren vegetation should be the defining characteristic of this system.

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL003768 Pinus rigida - Quercus alba / Sporobolus heterolepis - Andropogon gerardii Woodland
CEGL004968 Pinus rigida - Quercus stellata / Andropogon gerardii - Packera paupercula Woodland
CEGL006084 (Quercus stellata) / Schizachyrium scoparium - Packera plattensis - Parthenium auriculatum - Phemeranthus piedmontanus Wooded Grassland
CEGL006266 Pinus virginiana / Quercus marilandica Serpentine Ruderal Forest
CEGL006316 Deschampsia cespitosa - Vernonia noveboracensis Serpentine Seep
CEGL006438 Acer rubrum - Quercus spp. / Smilax spp. Serpentine Forest
CEGL006439 Acer rubrum - Pinus virginiana - Pinus rigida / Smilax spp. Serpentine Forest
CEGL006440 Juniperus virginiana - Pinus virginiana / Smilax rotundifolia Serpentine Forest
CEGL006441 Sorghastrum nutans - Schizachyrium scoparium Serpentine Grassland
CEGL006442 Schizachyrium scoparium - Sporobolus heterolepis Serpentine Grassland
CEGL006496 Pinus rigida / Sporobolus heterolepis - Schizachyrium scoparium Serpentine Woodland
CEGL007296 Quercus alba / Physocarpus opulifolius / Packera plattensis - Hexastylis arifolia var. ruthii Forest
CEGL007721 Pinus virginiana - Pinus rigida - Quercus stellata / Ceanothus americanus / Thalictrum revolutum Woodland


Land Cover Class: Forest and Woodland
Spatial Pattern: Large patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Forest and Woodland (Treed)  
Rock Outcrops/Barrens/Glades  
Ultramafic with low Ca:Mg ratio  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Canis rufus
  (Red Wolf)
G1Q LE, XN: Listed endangered, nonessential experimental population
Coreopsis delphiniifolia
  (Larkspur Tickseed)
Drepanolejeunea appalachiana
  (a liverwort)
Erynnis martialis
  (Mottled Duskywing)
Puma concolor couguar
  (Eastern Cougar)
Symphyotrichum depauperatum
  (Serpentine Aster)
Thalictrum macrostylum
  (Small-leaf Meadowrue)
Thaspium pinnatifidum
  (Cutleaf Meadow-parsnip)
Virginia valeriae pulchra
  (Mountain Earthsnake)

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Quercus alba G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Quercus marilandica G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Quercus stellata G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Pinus rigida G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy  
Pinus virginiana G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Packera plattensis G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Ranunculus fascicularis G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Symphyotrichum depauperatum G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Thaspium pinnatifidum G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Andropogon gerardii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Schizachyrium scoparium G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Sorghastrum nutans G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Drepanolejeunea appalachiana G2 Liverwort/hornwort Nonvascular      

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Agkistrodon contortrix
Anolis carolinensis
  (Green Anole)
Canis rufus
  (Red Wolf)
G1Q LE, XN: Listed endangered, nonessential experimental population    
Coluber constrictor
  (North American Racer)
Erynnis martialis
  (Mottled Duskywing)
Mustela nivalis
  (Least Weasel)
Neotoma floridana haematoreia
  (Southern Appalachian Woodrat)
Pantherophis obsoletus
  (Eastern Ratsnake)
Phyciodes batesii
  (Tawny Crescent)
Plestiodon inexpectatus
  (Southeastern Five-lined Skink)
Pooecetes gramineus
  (Vesper Sparrow)
Puma concolor couguar
  (Eastern Cougar)
Scincella lateralis
  (Little Brown Skink)
Tantilla coronata
  (Southeastern Crowned Snake)
Virginia valeriae pulchra
  (Mountain Earthsnake)
Virginia valeriae valeriae
  (Eastern Earthsnake)

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: MD, NC, NY, PA, VA
Global Range: This system is widely scattered throughout the Southern and Central Appalachians and Piedmont, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
202-Central Interior and Appalachian C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
51 Southern Blue Ridge Confident or certain
52 Piedmont Confident or certain
61 Lower New England / Northern Piedmont Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
54 Southern Piedmont Never was there
57 Southern Appalachia Confident or certain
59 Northeastern Piedmont Confident or certain
60 Chesapeake Bay Confident or certain
61 Northern Appalachia Confident or certain
64 Northeastern Highlands Never was there

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 4318
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1375
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2375

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: Yes

Element Description Edition Date: 14Jan2014
Element Description Author(s): M. Schafale, R. Evans, S.C. Gawler, M. Pyne

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

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  • Murdock, Nora. No. date. U.S. National Park Service, Appalachian Highlands Network, Ashville, NC.

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  • Pennell, F. W. 1912. Further notes on the flora of the Conowingo serpentine barrens of southeastern Pennsylvania. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science Philadelphia 64:520-539.

  • Pennell, F. W. 1929. On some critical species of the serpentine barrens. Bartonia 12:1-23.

  • Radford, A. E. 1948. The vascular flora of the olivine deposits of North Carolina and Georgia. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 64:45-106.

  • 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.

  • TNC [The Nature Conservancy]. 1996c. Portfolio assessment and conservation plan for calcareous glades of the Interior Low Plateau (working draft of August 1996). Calcareous Glades Conservation Team, The Nature Conservancy, Chapel Hill, NC. 28 pp.

  • Taft, J. B. 1997a. Savanna and open-woodland communities. Pages 24-54 in: M. W. Schwartz, editor. Conservation in highly fragmented landscapes. Chapman and Hall, New York. 436 pp.

  • Taft, J. B. 2009. Effects of overstory stand density and fire on ground layer vegetation in oak woodland and savanna habitats. In: T. F. Hutchinson, editor. Proceedings of the 3rd Fire in Eastern Oak Forests Conference. 2008 May 20-22. Carbondale, IL. General Technical Report NRS-P-46. USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, PA.

  • Taft, J. B., M. W. Schwartz, and L. R. Phillippe. 1995. Vegetation ecology of flatwoods on the Illinoian till plain. Journal of Vegetation Science 6:647-666.

  • Wherry, E. T. 1963. Some Pennsylvania barrens and their flora. I. Serpentine. Bartonia 33:7-11.

  • Wiens, J. A., and M. I. Dyer. 1975. Rangeland avifaunas: Their composition, energetics and role in the ecosystem. Pages 146 182 in: D. R. Smith, technical coordinator. Proceedings of the Symposium on Management of Forest and Range Habitats for Nongame Birds. 1975 May 6-9. Tucson, AZ. General Technical Report WO-1. USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC.

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