Maritime pitch pine dune woodland Stephen M. Young

Maritime pitch pine dune woodland
Stephen M. Young

Barrens And Woodlands
State Protection
Not Listed
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Global Conservation Status Rank


Did you know?

Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is a highly fire resistant and dependent tree, but within the maritime pitch pine dune woodland, fires are rare due to the sandy substrates and probably not necessary to maintain the natural community. The harsh climate combined with persistent high winds and salt spray makes conditions inhospitable for many plants. However, even though winds and salt spray continually prune the tops of pitch pines, the tree adapts by growing prostrate, or horizontally. It has very thick bark and has the ability to sprout branches from the bole and base of the tree following a major disturbance. Pitch Pines are also very adaptive to growing in thin sandy soils.

State Ranking Justification

There are very few occurrences of maritime pitch pine dune woodlands statewide. This natural community occurs only on the more stable backdunes (parabolic dunes) near the ocean. The total acreage is correspondingly low and it is vulnerable to disturbance. The community has probably showed a steady decline since the area was first settled. Presently, off-road vehicles (ORV), trampling, trails, and dirt (sand) roads are causing additional erosion and disturbance.

Short-term Trends

The numbers and acreage of maritime pitch pine woodlands have been declining slightly in recent decades. Currently, most of this natural community occurs on protected land.

Long-term Trends

The numbers and acreage of maritime pitch pine woodlands declined from historical numbers likely correlated with settlement and agricultural, commercial, and residential development.

Conservation and Management


The major threats to maritime pitch pine dune woodlands are development, increase in sand roads and trails for access to adjacent beaches, and invasive species. Development pressures on this community include residential, commercial, and recreational (golf courses). These types of development not only reduces the size of the forest block but causes the fragmentation of the forest into smaller units. Sand roads and an increase in off-road vehicle traffic can also cause this fragmentation but can also cause trampling and an increase in erosion. These new corridors can also lead to an increase in invasive species. Another threat to this community is deer browse. Deer typical will nip off new tree growth (saplings) thereby impacting the regeneration of the tree canopy species. Southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) is a bark beetle that infests pine trees, such as pitch pine, white pine, and red pine. Southern pine beetle is native to the southeastern United States, but its range has spread up the east coast to Long Island, New York in 2014. Natural communities dominated or co-dominated by pines would likely be most impacted by southern pine beetle invasion.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Management activities should include the development and implementation of a comprehensive plan to ensure landscape integrity. Fragmenting features such as roads and unnecessary trails should be reduced or minimized, and high-impact activities, such as the use of mountain bikes and ATVs, should be restricted.

Development and Mitigation Considerations

Soils are sandy in and around this natural community and the effect of clearing and construction on soil retention and erosion must be considered during any development activities. Similarly, these sandy soils are nutrient-poor and any soil enrichment activities (septic leach fields, fertilized lawns, etc.) have a high probability of altering community structure and function.

Inventory Needs

Survey for more occurrences along the coast. Collect additional plot data to document and confirm the classification of this community type. Remapping using better, digital orthophotos also needs to be done along with field validation.

Research Needs

Research is needed to better define the composition of this community on Long Island. Collect sufficient plot data to support this classification.

Rare Species

  • Ageratina aromatica var. aromatica (Small White Snakeroot) (guide)
  • Amelanchier nantucketensis (Nantucket Juneberry) (guide)
  • Cyperus schweinitzii (Schweinitz's Flat Sedge) (guide)
  • Myotis septentrionalis (Northern Long-eared Bat) (guide)
  • Oenothera oakesiana (Oakes' Evening Primrose) (guide)
  • Platanthera cristata (Orange Crested Orchid) (guide)
  • Schizaea pusilla (Curlygrass Fern) (guide)
  • Sericocarpus linifolius (Flax-leaf Whitetop) (guide)
  • Spiranthes vernalis (Spring Ladies' Tresses) (guide)
  • Symphyotrichum concolor var. concolor (Eastern Silvery Aster) (guide)


New York State Distribution

Maritime pitch pine dune woodlands are currently known only from Suffolk County, Long Island. This natural community only occurs on the coast specifically on the backdunes that are more stabilized than foredunes.

Global Distribution

A variation of this type of natural community may occur in various locations worldwide. Journal articles have been found describing maritime pine barrens in Spain, for example. This particular assemblage of species occurs along the North American Atlantic Coast in Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. This maritime woodland community is restricted to major coastal sand dune systems.

Best Places to See

  • Napeague State Park (Suffolk County)
  • Hither Hills State Park (Suffolk County)

Identification Comments

General Description

This natural community is a maritime woodland that occurs on stabilized parabolic dunes. The substrate is wind and wave deposited sand that is usually excessively well-drained and nutrient poor. The litter layer is shallow. The community is subject to high winds, sand-blasting, salt spray, and shifting substrate. The trees are somewhat stunted (10-12 m high) and salt pruned. The canopy is sparse with some openings. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is the dominant tree. Tree oaks including black oak (Quercus velutina), white oak (Quercus alba) and post oak (Quercus stellata) may also occur and can be codominant with pitch pine. Shrub species include bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), and scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia). The herbaceous layer is dominated by hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa). There is also a well developed non-vascular layer which includes a variety of lichens (Cladonia spp.) and mosses (Leucobryum glaucum, Polytricum juniperinum).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

A maritime woodland that occurs on stabilized parabolic dunes. The substrate is wind and wave deposited sand that is usually excessively well-drained and nutrient poor. The community is subject to high winds, sand-blasting, salt spray, and shifting substrate. Trees are somewhat stunted and salt pruned. The canopy is sparse with some openings. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is the dominant tree and may have lower branches that grow out horizontally like aprons.

Elevation Range

Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 5 feet and 100 feet.

Best Time to See

Late spring and summer are probably the best times to see this natural community when beach weather is at its best and when early morning choruses of birds such as Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) and Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) fill the air.

Maritime Pitch Pine Dune Woodland Images


International Vegetation Classification Associations

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.

  • Pitch Pine / Woolly Beach-heather Woodland (CEGL006117 )

NatureServe Ecological Systems

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.

  • Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Dune and Swale (CES203.264 )
  • Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Maritime Forest (CES203.302 )

Characteristic Species

Trees > 5m

Pinus rigida (pitch pine)

Quercus alba (white oak)

Quercus velutina (black oak)

Shrubs 2 - 5m

Hudsonia tomentosa (beach-heather)

Myrica pensylvanica

Pinus rigida (pitch pine)

Quercus rubra (northern red oak)

Shrubs < 2m

Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)

Hudsonia tomentosa (beach-heather)

Myrica pensylvanica

Pinus rigida (pitch pine)

Quercus stellata (post oak)

Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)


Smilax rotundifolia (common greenbrier)

Toxicodendron radicans


Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Deschampsia flexuosa

Panicum virgatum (switch grass)

Schizachyrium scoparium

Trientalis borealis

Nonvascular plants

Cladonia arbuscula

Cladonia rangerferina

Cladonia unicalis

Geaster hygrometricus

Leucobryum glaucum

Polytricum juniperinum

Tortella tortuosa

Similar Ecological Communities

  • Dwarf pine plains (guide)
  • Dwarf pine ridges (guide)
  • Pitch pine-heath barrens (guide)
  • Pitch pine-oak-heath woodland (guide)
  • Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens (guide)


Trees > 5m
Shrubs 2 - 5m
Shrubs < 2m
Nonvascular plants

Percent cover

This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Maritime Pitch Pine Dune 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%.

Additional Resources


Breden, Thomas. 1989. A preliminary natural community classification for New Jersey. in New Jersey's rare and endangered plants and animals, Karlin, E.F. (ed.). Institute for Environmental Studies, Ramapo College, Mahwah, New Jersey.

Eberhardt, R.W., D.R. Foster, G. Motzkin, and B. Hall. 2003. Conservation of changing landscapes: vegetation and land-use history of Cape Cod National Seashore. Ecological Applications 13(1):68-84.

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.

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.

Good, Ralph E. and Norma F. Good. 1970. Vegetation of the sea cliffs and adjacent uplands on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. Bulletin Torrey Botanical Club 97(4) 204-208.

Grossman, D. H., K. Lemon Goodin, and C. L. Reuss, editors. 1994. Rare plant communities of the conterminous United States: An initial survey. The Nature Conservancy. Arlington, VA. 620 pp.

Johnson, Anne F. 1981. Plant communities of the Napeague dunes. Bull. of the Torrey Botanical Club 108(1):76-84.

Johnson, Anne F. 1985. A guide to the plant communities of the Napeague dunes Long Island, New York. Mad Printers, Mattituck, New York. 58 pp.

Klopfer, S.D., Adele, Olivero, Leslie. Sneddon, and Julie Lundgren. 2002. Final report of the NPS Vegetation Mapping Project at Fire Island National Seashore. Conservation Management Institute, GIS and Remote Sensing Division, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.

Maine Natural Heritage Program. 1991. Natural landscapes of Maine: A classification of ecosystemns and natural communities. Department of Economic and Community Development, State House Station 130, AugustA, ME.

McDonnell, M. J. 1979. The flora of Plum Island, Essex County, Massachusetts. Station Bull. 513. New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.

McDonnell, M.J. 1981. Trampling effects on coastal dune vegetation in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts, USA. Biol. Conserv. 21: 289-301.

NatureServe. 2015. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

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.

Robichaud-Collins, B. and K.H. Anderson. 1994. Plant Communities of New Jersey: A study in landscape diversity. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Sneddon, L., M. Anderson, and J. Lundgren. 1998. International classification of ecological communities: terrestrial vegetation of the northeastern United States. July 1998 working draft. Unpublished report. The Nature Conservancy, Eastern Conservation Science and Natural Heritage ProgramS of the northeastern United States, Boston, MA. July 1998.

Sperduto, Daniel D. 1997. A preliminary classification of natural communities in the New Hampshire coastal lowlands ecoregion. New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory Program/The Nature Conservancy, Concord, New Hampshire.

Thompson, John E. 1997. Ecological communities of the Montauk Peninsula, Suffolk County, New York. Prepared for The Nature Conservancy, Long Island Chapter. April 1997.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Shereen Brock

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 6, 2017

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Maritime pitch pine dune woodland. Available from: Accessed March 19, 2019.

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