Pine Barrens Shrub Swamp

Pine Barrens Shub Swamp at Quogue Wetlands
Gregory J. Edinger

Open Mineral Soil Wetlands
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Vulnerable in New York - Vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors (but not currently imperiled); typically 21 to 80 populations or locations in New York, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

Inkberry (Ilex glabra), an evergreen holly, is a common component of pine barrens shrub swamp. The genus "Ilex" is derived from holly oak (Quercus ilex), a large Mediterranean oak that has foliage very similar to old and new world "hollies". Inkberry, as the name implies, has black berries unlike other members of that genus which all have red berries.

State Ranking Justification

There are very few occurrences of pine barrens shrub swamps statewide. This natural community only occurs on the coastal plain of Long Island in ice-contact (glacial) shallow depressions in the landscape. They occur as thin, string swamps adjacent to wetlands. A few documented occurrences have good viability and are protected on public land or private conservation land. Pine barrens shrub swamps also tend to be embedded within pine barrens, which depend on fire to maintain an open habitat. 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, alteration to the natural hydrology, reduced protection regulations for isolated wetlands, and perhaps fire suppression. This community has declined from historical numbers likely correlated with settlement of the area and development.

Short-term Trends

The numbers and acreage of pine barrens shrub swamps have probably declined in recent decades as a result of displacement by residential and commercial development and by a change in the natural hydrology and water quality.

Long-term Trends

The numbers and acreage of pine barrens shrub swamps have probably declined from historical numbers most likely correlated with settlement of the area and agricultural, residential, and commercial development. Development not only caused the displacement of the natural community but also alterations to the natural hydrology and water quality of the swamps.

Conservation and Management


Pine barrens shrub swamps are threatened by the establishment and spread of invasive species such as common reed (Phragmites australis). Fire suppression is also considered a threat. Although this is a wetland community, historically it burned as fire swept across the landscape. The suppression of fire could allow fire intolerant species to become established and take-over the area. Additional threats include displacement by development and pollution of the swamp's water supply by run-off from surrounding impervious surfaces, as well as trampling and erosion caused by off-road vehicles (ORV).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Management of pine barrens shrub swamps should include: prescribed fire to maintain the natural character of the landscape; limit the construction of new trails; consider the relocation of existing trails to minimize impact to the vegetation; work to maintain an adequate riparian buffer to minimize water contamination from runoff; monitor for and minimize the spread of invasive species; and monitor the swamps for long-term hydrology trends. Work to limit the use of off-road vehicles (ORV) in the area. Where practical, establish and maintain a natural wetland buffer to reduce storm-water, pollution, and nutrient run-off, while simultaneously capturing sediments before they reach the wetland. Buffer width should take into account the erodibility of the surrounding soils, slope steepness, and current land use. Wetlands protected under Article 24 are known as New York State "regulated" wetlands. The regulated area includes the wetlands themselves, as well as a protective buffer or "adjacent area" extending 100 feet landward of the wetland boundary (NYS DEC 1995). If possible, minimize the number and size of impervious surfaces in the surrounding landscape. Avoid habitat alteration within the wetland and surrounding landscape. For example, roads and trails should be routed around wetlands, and ideally not pass through the buffer area. If the wetland must be crossed, then bridges and boardwalks are preferred over filling. Restore past impacts, such as removing obsolete impoundments and ditches in order to restore the natural hydrology. Prevent the spread of invasive species into the wetland through appropriate direct management, and by minimizing potential dispersal corridors, such as roads.

Development and Mitigation Considerations

When considering road construction and other development activities minimize actions that will change what water carries and how water travels to this community, both on the surface and underground. Water traveling over-the-ground as run-off usually carries an abundance of silt, clay, and other particulates during (and often after) a construction project. While still suspended in the water, these particulates make it difficult for aquatic animals to find food. After settling to the bottom of the wetland, these particulates bury small plants and animals and alter the natural functions of the community in many other ways. Thus, road construction and development activities near this community type should strive to minimize particulate-laden run-off into this community. Water traveling on the ground or seeping through the ground also carries dissolved minerals and chemicals. Road salt, for example, is becoming an increasing problem both to natural communities and as a contaminant in household wells. Fertilizers, detergents, and other chemicals that increase the nutrient levels in wetlands cause algae blooms and eventually an oxygen-depleted environment where few animals can live. Herbicides and pesticides often travel far from where they are applied and have lasting effects on the quality of the natural community. So, road construction and other development activities should strive to consider: 1. how water moves through the ground, 2. the types of dissolved substances these development activities may release, and 3. how to minimize the potential for these dissolved substances to reach this natural community

Inventory Needs

Survey for additional occurrences on the coastal plain of New York to confirm the extent of this natural community type. Need additional vegetation surveys of known occurrences to better describe the composition of pine barrens shrub swamps.

Research Needs

Research is needed to fill information gaps about pine barrens shrub swamps, especially to advance our understanding of their classification, ecological processes (e.g., fire), hydrology, floristic variation, characteristic fauna, and swamp development and succession. This research will provide the basic facts necessary to assess how human alterations in the landscape affect these types of swamps and clearly separate this from the coastal plain variant of highbush blueberry bog thicket.

Rare Species

  • Ageratina aromatica var. aromatica (Small White Snakeroot) (guide)
  • Carex barrattii (Barratt's Sedge) (guide)
  • Carex polymorpha (Variable Sedge) (guide)
  • Carex venusta (Dark-green Sedge) (guide)
  • Chordeiles minor (Common Nighthawk) (guide)
  • Cuscuta cephalanthi (Buttonbush Dodder) (guide)
  • Gaylussacia bigeloviana (Bog Huckleberry) (guide)
  • Ludwigia sphaerocarpa (Globe-fruited Seed-Box) (guide)
  • Nehalennia integricollis (Southern Sprite) (guide)
  • Persicaria careyi (Carey's Smartweed) (guide)
  • Platanthera ciliaris (Orange Fringed Orchid) (guide)
  • Scleria minor (Slender Nut Sedge) (guide)
  • Utricularia striata (Striped Bladderwort) (guide)


New York State Distribution

Pine barrens shrub swamps are currently known from only a handful of locations in Suffolk County on Long Island. They are restricted to shallow, wet depressions on the coastal plain within the pitch pine-oak forests.

Global Distribution

Although the global distribution is uncertain and could be more extensive, this community is known from the coastal areas of New York, New Jersey, and possibly Maine (NatureServe Explorer 2009). It occurs as a shallow depression in the coastal plain within either the pitch pine-scrub oak barrens or pitch pine-oak forests. This community is limited to the coastal lowlands ecozone.

Best Places to See

  • Connetquot River State Park Preserve (Suffolk County)
  • Quogue Wildlife Refuge (Suffolk County)
  • Otis Pike Preserve (Suffolk County)

Identification Comments

General Description

Pine barrens shrub swamp are shrub-dominated wetlands that occur in shallow depressions in the coastal plain, often as a linear transition zone between a coastal plain pond shore and either pitch pine-scrub oak barrens or pitch pine-oak forest. Characteristic shrubs include highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), inkberry (Ilex glabra), male-berry (Lyonia ligustrina), fetterbush (Leucothoe racemosa), sweet pepper-bush (Clethra alnifolia), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), dwarf huckleberry (Gaylussacia dumosa), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). Herbaceous species include Virginia chain fern (Woodwardia virginica), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) and tussock sedge (Carex stricta). Sphagnum mosses are characteristic in the groundlayer. The major ecological factors influencing this community include hydrology and fire. Pine barrens shrub swamps are best developed along the upper edges of coastal plain ponds that have variable hydrology, and are embedded in a fire prone forest, such as a pitch pine-oak forest.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

A shrub-dominated wetland that occurs in shallow depressions in the coastal plain as a linear transition zone between a coastal plain pond shore and pitch pine-scrub oak barrens or pitch pine-oak forest. Characteristic shrubs include highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and inkberry (Ilex glabra).

Elevation Range

Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 8 feet and 49 feet.

Best Time to See

Many of the tall shrubs that comprise this natural community such as sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), fetterbush (Leucothoe racemosa), and swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), bloom in late spring.

Pine Barrens Shrub Swamp 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 / Highbush Blueberry - Swamp Doghobble / Peatmoss species Swamp Woodland (CEGL006195)

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.

  • East Gulf Coastal Plain Near-Coast Pine Flatwoods (CES203.375)

Characteristic Species

  • Shrubs 2 - 5m

    • Chamaedaphne calyculata (leatherleaf)
    • Clethra alnifolia (coastal sweet-pepperbush)
    • Gaylussacia dumosa
    • Ilex glabra (inkberry)
    • Leucothoe racemosa
    • Lyonia ligustrina
    • Lyonia mariana (staggerbush)
    • Photinia melanocarpa
    • Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)
  • Shrubs < 2m

    • Chamaedaphne calyculata (leatherleaf)
    • Clethra alnifolia (coastal sweet-pepperbush)
    • Gaylussacia dumosa
    • Ilex glabra (inkberry)
    • Kalmia angustifolia
    • Leucothoe racemosa
    • Lyonia ligustrina
    • Lyonia mariana (staggerbush)
    • Myrica pensylvanica
    • Rhododendron viscosum (swamp azalea)
    • Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)
  • Herbs

    • Carex stricta (tussock sedge)
    • Osmunda cinnamomea
    • Woodwardia virginica

Similar Ecological Communities

  • Coastal plain pond shore (guide)
    This is the gently sloping shore of a coastal plain pond with seasonally and annually fluctuating water levels. Coastal plain pond shores on Long Island can be divided into four distinct zones which include: 1) The upper wetland shrub thicket zone is treated as either pine barrens shrub swamp or the coastal variant of highbush blueberry bog thicket, 2) The upper, low herbaceous fringe zone is a narrow band of vegetation with peaty substrate mixed with sand, 3) The sandy exposed pond bottom zone is often very sandy and dominated by annual species, and 4) The organic exposed pond bottom zone is more frequently flooded than the sandy zone, hence has a greater accumulation of organics.
  • Highbush blueberry bog thicket (guide)
    These two natural communities are separated by the facts that highbush blueberry bog thicket maintains a persistent hydrological regime, supports peat development, and often lacks edge species that are found in pine barrens shrub swamp, such as Lyonia mariana, Ilex glabra, and Myrica pensylvanica. This is an ombrotrophic or weakly minerotrophic peatland dominated by tall, deciduous, ericaceous shrubs and peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.); the water is usually nutrient-poor and acidic. The southern New York variant of this community contains substantially fewer northern taxa and numerous coastal indicator species, such as swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) which may become codominant, red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), male-berry (Lyonia ligustrina), fetterbush (Leucothoe racemosa), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), water willow (Decodon verticillatus), and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
  • Pine barrens vernal pond (guide)
    This is a seasonally fluctuating, groundwater-fed pond and associated wetland that typically occur in pine barrens. These ponds are characterized by submergent aquatic plants such as pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.) and usually have about distinct four physiognomic zones that may include 1) a zone of emergent aquatic plants dominated by graminoids and herbs, and 2) zoned ring of low shrubs that may include species typically found in pine barrens shrub swamps, and 3) stunted trees may be present on hummocks within the wetland or surround the wetland. The difference lies in that pine barrens vernal ponds have different zones that surround an open area of open water (early in season).
  • Shrub swamp (guide)
    This is an inland wetland dominated by tall shrubs. It can occur in a variety of places including: along the shore of a lake or river; in a wet depression; or as a transition zone between a marsh, fen, bog, swamp or upland community. The substrate is usually mineral soil or muck. This is a very broadly defined type that includes several distinct communities and many intermediates. Shrub swamps are very common and quite variable. Although the distribution of this swamp type can be statewide, it typically occurs on uplands away from the coastal plain.


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

Percent cover

This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Pine Barrens Shrub Swamp. 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, T. F., Y. R. Alger, K. S. Walz, and A. G. Windisch. 2001. Classification of vegetation communities of New Jersey: Second iteration. Association for Biodiversity Information and New Jersey Natural Heritage Program, Office of Natural Lands Management, Division of Parks and Forestry, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Trenton.

Bried, J.T. and G.J. Edinger. 2009. Baseline floristic and classification of pine barrens vernal ponds. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 136(1): 128-136.

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.

Cowardin, L.M., V. Carter, F.C. Golet, and E.T. La Roe. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Washington, D.C. 131 pp.

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.

Ehrenfeld, Joan G. 1986. Wetlands of the New Jersey pine barrens: the role of species composition in community function. American Midland Naturalist 115(2):301-313.

Forman, Richard T.T. (editior). 1979. Pine Barrens: Ecosystem and Landscape. Academic Press, New York, NY

Hanson, John, editor. 1983. Massachusetts pine barrens 23(1). Sanctuary: Bulletin of the Massachusetts Audubon Society Lincoln, Massachusetts October 1983.

Harshberger, John W. 1916. The vegetation of the New Jersey Pine Barrens: An ecologic investigation. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.

MacDonald, Dana and Gregory Edinger. 2000. Identification of reference wetlands on Long Island, New York. Final report prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency, Wetland Grant CD992436-01. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 106 pp. plus appendices.

NatureServe. 2009. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Data last updated July 17, 2009)

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 1995. Freshwater Wetlands: Delineation Manual. July 1995. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources. Bureau of Habitat. Albany, NY.

Olsvig, L.S. 1980. A comparative study of northeastern Pine Barrens vegetation. Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 479 pp.

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.

Stone, W. 1912. The plants of southern New Jersey with special reference to the flora of the Pine Barrens and the geographic distribution of the species. New Jersey State Museum Annual Report for 1910, pp. 21-828.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Shereen Brock

Information for this guide was last updated on: April 25, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Pine barrens shrub swamp. Available from: Accessed September 24, 2023.