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Scientific Name: Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Maritime Forest
Unique Identifier: CES203.302

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Summary: This system encompasses a range of woody vegetation present on barrier islands, maritime shores and near-coastal strands, from Fisherman's Island, Virginia (the northern range limit of Quercus virginiana and the southernmost tip of the Delmava Peninsula) northward to the extent of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. It includes forests and shrublands whose structure and composition are influenced by proximity to marine environments, including both upland and wetland. Vegetation includes narrow bands of forests with often stunted trees with contorted branches and dense vine layers. A range of trees may be present depending upon actual location and degree of protection from most extreme maritime influences. Common trees include Prunus serotina, Pinus taeda, Ilex opaca, Quercus stellata, Juniperus virginiana, Pinus rigida, Pinus virginiana, Amelanchier canadensis, and Celtis occidentalis. These trees are also found in less extreme or non-maritime settings; this system is distinguished as much by the structure of the vegetation as its composition. Morella pensylvanica is a characteristic shrub, and Smilax rotundifolia and Vitis rotundifolia are characteristic vines. Morella cerifera is often present south of central New Jersey.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: In New York this concept includes Maritime Holly Forest, Maritime Post Oak Forest, Maritime Beech Forest, Maritime Red Cedar Forest (Edinger et al. 2002).

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES203.261 Central Atlantic Coastal Plain Maritime Forest
CES203.264 Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Dune and Swale

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL006040 Pinus taeda - Quercus (falcata, nigra) / Morella cerifera / Vitis rotundifolia Forest
CEGL006043 Fagus grandifolia / Smilax rotundifolia Forest
CEGL006052 Pinus taeda / Hudsonia tomentosa Woodland
CEGL006117 Pinus rigida / Hudsonia tomentosa Woodland
CEGL006137 Pinus taeda / Morella cerifera / Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis Swamp Forest
CEGL006145 Prunus serotina - Sassafras albidum - Amelanchier canadensis - Quercus velutina / Smilax rotundifolia Forest
CEGL006156 Acer rubrum / Rhododendron viscosum - Clethra alnifolia Swamp Forest
CEGL006212 Juniperus virginiana / Morella pensylvanica Woodland
CEGL006295 Morella pensylvanica - Prunus maritima Shrubland
CEGL006315 Pinus rigida / Quercus ilicifolia / Morella pensylvanica Woodland
CEGL006319 Prunus serotina / Morella cerifera / Smilax rotundifolia Scrub Forest
CEGL006373 Quercus stellata - Quercus velutina / Morella pensylvanica / Deschampsia flexuosa Forest
CEGL006376 Ilex opaca / Morella pensylvanica Forest
CEGL006379 Amelanchier canadensis - Viburnum spp. - Morella pensylvanica Scrub Forest
CEGL006849 Pinus taeda / Morella cerifera / Spartina patens Tidal Woodland


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

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Forest and Woodland (Treed)  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Acer rubrum G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Juniperus virginiana G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Pinus taeda G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Ilex opaca G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Morella cerifera G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Morella pensylvanica G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Hudsonia tomentosa G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Vitis rotundifolia G5 Liana Herb (field)    

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: DE, MA, MD, NH, NJ, NY, VA
Global Range: This system ranges from Fisherman's Island, Virginia northward to Massachusetts along the extent of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
203-Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
58 Chesapeake Bay Lowlands Confident or certain
62 North Atlantic Coast Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
60 Chesapeake Bay Confident or certain
61 Northern Appalachia Never was there
65 Connecticut River Basin and Highlands Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 4322
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1379
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2379

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: Yes

Element Description Edition Date: 02Jan2015
Element Description Author(s): R. Evans, G. Fleming, P. Coulling, L.A. Sneddon, M. Pyne

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

  • Backman, A. E. 1984. 1000-year record of fire-vegetation interactions in the northeastern United States: A comparison between coastal and inland regions. M.S. thesis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

  • Busby, P. E., and G. Motzkin. 2009. Dwarf beech forests in coastal New England: Topographic and edaphic controls on variation in forest structure. American Midland Naturalist 162: 180-194. []

  • Clark, J. S. 1986b. Coastal forest tree populations in a changing environment, southeastern Long Island, New York. Ecological Monographs 56:259-277.

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • 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. 2005. Vascular flora and plant communities of the Boston Harbor Islands. Northeastern Naturalist 12:49-75.

  • Eyre, F. H., editor. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Society of American Foresters, Washington, DC. 148 pp.

  • Foster, D. R., and G. Motzkin. 1999. Historical influences on the landscape of Martha's Vineyard: Perspectives on the management of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. Harvard Forest Paper No. 23. Harvard University, Petersham, MA.

  • NYNHP [New York Natural Heritage Program]. 2013a. Online conservation guide for Successional Maritime Forest. New York Natural Heritage Program, Albany, NY. [] (accessed September 25, 2013).

  • Sperduto, D. D., and W. F. Nichols. 2004. Natural communities of New Hampshire: A guide and classification. New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau, DRED Division of Forests and Lands, Concord. 242 pp.

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Data last updated: March 2019