NatureServe Explorer logo.An Online Encyclopedia of Life
Ecological System Comprehensive Report: Record 1 of 1 selected. View Glossary
<< Previous | Next >>

Scientific Name: Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Pitch Pine Barrens
Unique Identifier: CES203.269

Search for Images on Google
Summary: This system comprises a group of dry pitch pine woodlands and forests of deep sandy soils ranging from Cape Cod (Massachusetts) south through Long Island (New York) and the famous Pine Barrens of the New Jersey Coastal Plain, with occasional occurrences north to southernmost Maine and south to the Anacostia watershed (Maryland). The vegetation is characterized by a tree canopy of Pinus rigida with a tall-shrub layer dominated by Quercus ilicifolia and a low-shrub layer characterized by Vaccinium pallidum and/or Vaccinium angustifolium. The system is heavily influenced by fire, the composition and structure of its components varying with fire frequency. In general, tree oaks are more prevalent in those stands having a longer fire-return interval; fire frequencies of 8-10 years foster the growth of "pine plains," i.e., dwarf pine stands 1 m in height. Pine barrens with a history of more-or-less biennial burns for lowbush blueberry production may have very few trees and be characterized as sandplain grasslands. Dwarf-shrubs such as Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium pallidum, and Hudsonia ericoides typify the field layer of pine plains and sandplain grasslands. Schizachyrium scoparium is the most common grass (in close proximity to the coast, it may be represented by its close relative Schizachyrium littorale).

Scrub oak stands may occur without pine cover, particularly in low-lying areas that do not intersect the water table, where cold-air drainage inhibits pine growth. North of the glacial boundary, heathlands characterized by Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Corema conradii, and Morella pensylvanica, and grasslands characterized by Schizachyrium littorale, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Danthonia spicata occur as small (or occasionally large) patches. The Pine Barrens of New Jersey are very similar in structure and composition to those north of the glacial boundary but are characterized by additional species, such as Quercus marilandica, Quercus stellata, Pyxidanthera barbulata, Leiophyllum buxifolium, and others. Where the water table is close to the surface, pitch pine lowland vegetation (described as a separate system) occurs.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: This system includes the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the uniqueness of which has long been recognized, and the system is well-studied and summarized in a number of recent treatments (Forman 1979, Buckhholz and Good 1982, Gibson et al. 1999).

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES202.590 Northeastern Interior Pine Barrens
CES203.895 Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Heathland and Grassland

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL006051 Pinus rigida / Quercus (marilandica, ilicifolia) / Pyxidanthera barbulata Woodland
CEGL006066 Gaylussacia baccata - Vaccinium angustifolium - Arctostaphylos uva-ursi / Schizachyrium littorale Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL006067 Morella pensylvanica / Schizachyrium littorale - Danthonia spicata Shrub Grassland
CEGL006097 Pinus rigida - Quercus ilicifolia / Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Scrub
CEGL006111 Quercus ilicifolia - Quercus prinoides Scrub
CEGL006148 Pinus rigida - Quercus marilandica / Corema conradii Scrub
CEGL006315 Pinus rigida / Quercus ilicifolia / Morella pensylvanica Woodland
CEGL006329 Pinus rigida - Quercus coccinea - Quercus falcata / (Quercus marilandica) / Gaylussacia frondosa Woodland
CEGL006381 Pinus rigida - Quercus coccinea / Vaccinium pallidum - (Morella pensylvanica) Woodland
CEGL006383 Pinus rigida - (Pinus echinata) - Quercus stellata / Quercus (marilandica, ilicifolia) Woodland
CEGL006384 Pinus rigida / Quercus ilicifolia - Kalmia angustifolia / Pyxidanthera barbulata Woodland
CEGL006385 Pinus rigida / Carex pensylvanica Woodland
CEGL006393 Vaccinium angustifolium / Schizachyrium scoparium - Carex lucorum Shrub Grassland
CEGL006929 Quercus falcata - Pinus rigida - Pinus echinata / Ilex opaca 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)  
F-Patch/High Intensity  
Needle-Leaved Tree  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Catocala herodias gerhardi
  (Herodias or Pine Barrens Underwing)
Phoberia ingenua
  (Common Oak Moth)

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Quercus ilicifolia G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Quercus marilandica G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Pinus rigida G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Ilex glabra G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Morella pensylvanica G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Corema conradii G4 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Vaccinium angustifolium G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Vaccinium pallidum G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Pyxidanthera barbulata G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Schizachyrium scoparium G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Catocala herodias gerhardi
  (Herodias or Pine Barrens Underwing)
Coluber constrictor
  (North American Racer)
Heterodon platirhinos
  (Eastern Hog-nosed Snake)
Peromyscus leucopus
  (White-footed Deermouse)
Phoberia ingenua
  (Common Oak Moth)

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI
Global Range: This system is found in the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Delaware Bay northward through the New Jersey Coastal Plain and Long Island (New York) to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with peripheral occurrences in Pennsylvania (historic), New Hampshire (historic), and southern Maine (Kennebunk Plains and Wells Barren).

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): 4258
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1355
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2355

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: Yes

Element Description Edition Date: 14Jan2014
Element Description Author(s): R. Evans, S.C. Gawler and L.A. Sneddon

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.

  • Buckhholz, K., and R. E. Good. 1982. Compendium of New Jersey Pine Barrens literature. Division of Pinelands Research, Center for Coastal and Environmental Studies. Rutgers, The State University, New Brunswick, NJ.

  • 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.

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

  • Finton, A. D. 1998. Succession and plant community development in pitch pine - scrub oak barrens of the glaciated northeastern United States. M.S. thesis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 179 pp.

  • Forman, R. T. T. 1979. Pine Barrens: Ecosystems and landscape. Academy Press, New York. 601 pp.

  • Gawler, S. C., and A. Cutko. 2010. Natural landscapes of Maine: A classification of vegetated natural communities and ecosystems. Maine Natural Areas Program, Department of Conservation, Augusta.

  • Gibson, D. J., R. A. Zampella, and A. G. Windisch. 1999. New Jersey pine plains: The "true barrens" of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Pages 52-66 in: R. C. Anderson, J. S. Fralish, and J. M. Baskin, editors. 1999. Savanna, barren, and rock outcrops plant communities of North America. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  • Givnish, T. J. 1981. Serotiny, geography and fire in the pine barrens of New Jersey. Evolution 35:101-123.

  • Harshberger, J. W. 1916. The vegetation of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Reprinted 1970. Dover Publications, Inc., New York. 329 pp.

  • Jordan, M. J., W. A. Patterson, III, and A. G. Windisch. 2003. Conceptual ecological models for the Long Island pine barrens. Forest Ecology and Management. [in press]

  • LANDFIRE [Landfire National Vegetation Dynamics Database]. 2007a. Landfire National Vegetation Dynamics Models. Landfire Project, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior. (January - last update) [] (accessed 8 February 2007).

  • Motzkin, G., and D. R. Foster. 2002. Grasslands, heathlands and shrublands in coastal New England: Historical interpretations and approaches to conservation. Journal of Biogeography 29:1569-1590. []

  • Stone, W. 1911. The plants of southern New Jersey with special reference to the flora of the pine barrens. Annual Report for 1910. New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ. 828 pp.

  • Swain, P. C., and J. B. Kearsley. 2011. Classification of the natural communities of Massachusetts. Version 1.4. Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Westborough, MA. []

  • Wacker, P. O. 1979. Human exploitation of the New Jersey Pine Barrens before 1900. Pages 3-24 in: R. T. T. Forman, editor. Pine Barrens ecosystem and landscape. Rutgers University Press.

  • Walker, R. T., and W. D. Solecki. 1999. Managing land use and land-cover change: The New Jersey Pinelands Biosphere Reserve. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 89:220-237.

  • Windisch, A. 1990. Draft element stewardship abstract for Dwarf Pine Barrens. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.

  • Windisch, A. G. 1994. Preliminary wildfire history for the Long Island central pine barrens. Report to Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

  • Windisch, A. G. 1999. Fire ecology of the New Jersey Pine Plains and vicinity. Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers-The State University, New Brunswick, NJ. 327 pp.

Use Guidelines and Citation

The Small Print: Trademark, Copyright, Citation Guidelines, Restrictions on Use, and Information Disclaimer.

Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of March 2019.
Note: This report was printed on

Trademark Notice: "NatureServe", NatureServe Explorer, The NatureServe logo, and all other names of NatureServe programs referenced herein are trademarks of NatureServe. Any other product or company names mentioned herein are the trademarks of their respective owners.

Copyright Notice: Copyright © 2019 NatureServe, 2511 Richmond (Jefferson Davis) Highway, Suite 930, Arlington, VA 22202, U.S.A. All Rights Reserved. Each document delivered from this server or web site may contain other proprietary notices and copyright information relating to that document. The following citation should be used in any published materials which reference the web site.

Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:

Restrictions on Use: Permission to use, copy and distribute documents delivered from this server is hereby granted under the following conditions:
  1. The above copyright notice must appear in all copies;
  2. Any use of the documents available from this server must be for informational purposes only and in no instance for commercial purposes;
  3. Some data may be downloaded to files and altered in format for analytical purposes, however the data should still be referenced using the citation above;
  4. No graphics available from this server can be used, copied or distributed separate from the accompanying text. Any rights not expressly granted herein are reserved by NatureServe. Nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring by implication, estoppel, or otherwise any license or right under any trademark of NatureServe. No trademark owned by NatureServe may be used in advertising or promotion pertaining to the distribution of documents delivered from this server without specific advance permission from NatureServe. Except as expressly provided above, nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring any license or right under any NatureServe copyright.
Information Warranty Disclaimer: All documents and related graphics provided by this server and any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server are provided "as is" without warranty as to the currentness, completeness, or accuracy of any specific data. NatureServe hereby disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to any documents provided by this server or any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, including but not limited to all implied warranties and conditions of merchantibility, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. NatureServe makes no representations about the suitability of the information delivered from this server or any other documents that are referenced to or linked to this server. In no event shall NatureServe be liable for any special, indirect, incidental, consequential damages, or for damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information contained in any documents provided by this server or in any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, under any theory of liability used. NatureServe may update or make changes to the documents provided by this server at any time without notice; however, NatureServe makes no commitment to update the information contained herein. Since the data in the central databases are continually being updated, it is advisable to refresh data retrieved at least once a year after its receipt. The data provided is for planning, assessment, and informational purposes. Site specific projects or activities should be reviewed for potential environmental impacts with appropriate regulatory agencies. If ground-disturbing activities are proposed on a site, the appropriate state natural heritage program(s) or conservation data center can be contacted for a site-specific review of the project area (see Visit Local Programs).

Feedback Request: NatureServe encourages users to let us know of any errors or significant omissions that you find in the data through (see Contact Us). Your comments will be very valuable in improving the overall quality of our databases for the benefit of all users.

Copyright 2019
Version 7.1 (2 February 2009)
Data last updated: March 2019