Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragaroides) are common herbs on the forest floor of limestone woodlands. Although both spread by runners, barren strawberry, as its name suggests, does not produce a fleshy fruit. It may be found next to the fleshy-fruit-bearing wild strawberry. The Iroquois consider wild strawberries to be a symbol of a new beginning because they are one of the earliest flowers and fruits of the year. They drink strawberry juice at this time to cleanse the soul and the spirit.
There are several hundred occurrences statewide. There are some documented occurrences that have good viability and many are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community is limited to areas underlain with limestone bedrock across the state, and includes several large, high quality examples. The current trend of this community is probably stable for occurrences on public land, or declining slightly elsewhere due to moderate threats related to development pressure and invasive plant species.
The number and acreage of limestone woodlands in New York have probably declined slightly in recent decades as a result of logging, conversion to agriculture, and other development.
The number and acreage of limestone woodlands in New York have probably declined substantially from historical numbers as a result of logging, conversion to agriculture, and other development.
Threats to limestone woodlands in general include changes in land use (e.g., clearing for development), forest fragmentation (e.g., roads), and invasive species (e.g., insects, diseases, and plants). Other threats may include over-browsing by deer, fire suppression, and air pollution (e.g., ozone and acidic deposition).
Minimize or avoid habitat alteration within the woodland and surrounding landscape. Prevent recreational overuse. Remove or prevent the spread of invasive exotic species into the woodland through appropriate direct management, and by minimizing potential dispersal corridors, such as trails and roads.
A natural (usually forested) buffer around the edges of this community will help it maintain the microclimatic characteristics that help make this community unique.
Survey for occurrences statewide to advance documentation and classification of limestone woodlands. A statewide review of limestone woodlands is desirable, perhaps using GIS modeling to locate new occurrences. Known examples in New York range from evergreen-dominated with northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), to mixed evergreen-deciduous, to deciduous dominated with sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and/or oak (Quercus spp.). Continue searching for large sites in good condition (A- to AB-ranked).
Collect sufficient plot data to support the recognition of several distinct limestone woodland types based on composition and physical characteristics. Known examples in New York range from evergreen-dominated with northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), to mixed evergreen-deciduous, to deciduous dominated with sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and/or oak (Quercus spp.). The current classification includes a wide range of physiognomy (e.g., woodland, forest), and moisture gradient (e.g., dry, moist, wet). These types may correspond to ecoregional distribution, or specific limestone geology.
This community is currently known from the central Hudson Limestone Valley, the Lake Champlain Valley, the non-alvar portions of the St. Lawrence Valley, and across the Ontario Lake Plain.
The range of the physically and physiognomically broadly-defined community may be worldwide. Examples with the greatest biotic affinities to New York occurrences are suspected to span north to southern Ontario, west to Minnesota and Illinois, south probably to Tennessee, southeast to Maryland, and northeast possibly to Maine.
Characteristic limestone woodland canopy trees in some stands are primarily conifers such as northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), white pine (Pinus strobus), white spruce (Picea glauca), and balsam fir (Abies balsamea). In other stands the characteristic canopy trees are primarily hardwoods such as hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), bitternut hickory (C. cordiformis), white oak (Quercus alba), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), red oak (Q. rubra), chinkapin oak (Q. muhlenbergii), basswood (Tilia americana), and common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). There are also stands that include mixtures of these conifers and hardwoods.
Limestone woodlands are conifer or hardwood dominated woodlands that occur on shallow soils over limestone bedrock, and usually include numerous small rock outcrops. Typical examples have pure calcareous bedrock such as limestone, dolomite, calcite, or marble. Other examples may have hybrid bedrock types such as amphibolites or Potsdam sandstone. The tree canopy may be open or closed. There are usually several codominant trees, although one species may become dominant in any one stand.
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 40 feet and 1,575 feet.
Limestone woodlands offer a particularly nice array of spring ephemerals and early wildflowers from May to June.
This New York natural community encompasses all or part of the concept of the following International Vegetation Classification (IVC) natural community associations. These are often described at finer resolution than New York's natural communities. The IVC is developed and maintained by NatureServe.
This New York natural community falls into the following ecological system(s). Ecological systems are often described at a coarser resolution than New York's natural communities and tend to represent clusters of associations found in similar environments. The ecological systems project is developed and maintained by NatureServe.
Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam, ironwood)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak)
Quercus montana (chestnut oak)
Quercus rubra (northern red oak)
Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedar, arbor vitae)
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Trillium grandiflorum (white trillium)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Limestone Woodland. Each bar represents the amount of "coverage" for all the species growing at that height. Because layers overlap (shrubs may grow under trees, for example), the shaded regions can add up to more than 100%.
Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero (editors). 2014. 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. https://www.nynhp.org/ecological-communities/
Edinger, Gregory J., D.J. Evans, Shane Gebauer, Timothy G. Howard, David M. Hunt, and Adele M. Olivero (editors). 2002. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's Ecological Communities of New York State. (Draft for review). New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 136 pp.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2022. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
Reschke, Carol and B. Gilman. 1988. Vegetation of the limestone pavements in Jefferson County, New York. Poster presented at the 15th Annual Natural Areas Conference, Syracuse, New York.
Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.
Sorenson, E. and R. Popp. Limestone bluff cedar-pine forests of Vermont: A statewide inventory. Nongame and Natural Heritage Program, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Agency of Natural Resources, Waterbury, Vermont.
This guide was authored by: D.J. Evans
Information for this guide was last updated on: May 28, 2020
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2022. Online Conservation Guide for Limestone woodland. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/limestone-woodland/. Accessed September 29, 2022.