Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamp plot at Rome Sand Plains Huckleberry Swamp. Gregory J. Edinger

Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamp plot at Rome Sand Plains Huckleberry Swamp.
Gregory J. Edinger

Forested Peatlands
State Protection
Not Listed
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Global Conservation Status Rank


Did you know?

Highbush blueberry dominates the shrub layer in pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps. Blueberries are the most widely grown fruit crop in the U.S. Conventionally grown blueberries use a variety of pesticides that may be toxic to wetland plants and animals, especially considering that blueberry fields lay close to the water table and pesticides are easily transported through surface and groundwater flows from fields to nearby wetlands. Blueberries actually have a relatively low nitrogen requirement and thrive on organic fertilizers. Organic blueberry farming is growing in response to a high demand for organic fruits.

State Ranking Justification

There are very few occurrences of pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps statewide. Very few documented occurrences have good viability and very few are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community has limited statewide distribution and tends to be embedded within barrens or rocky summits that depend on fire to maintain pitch pine and heath shrubs. The current trend of this community is probably stable for occurrences on conservation land, or declining slightly elsewhere due to moderate threats related to development pressure, alteration to the natural hydrology, and fire suppression. This community has declined moderately from historical numbers likely correlated with mining, logging, and development of the surrounding landscape.

Short-term Trends

The numbers and acreage of pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps in New York have probably remained stable in recent decades as a result of wetland protection regulations.

Long-term Trends

The numbers and acreage of pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps in New York have probably declined moderately from historical numbers likely correlated with logging, fire suppression, and development of the surrounding landscape.

Conservation and Management


Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps are threatened by development and its associated run-off (e.g., residential, roads), recreational overuse (e.g., ATVs, hiking trails causing peat compaction), and habitat alteration in the adjacent landscape (e.g., excessive logging, pollution, nutrient loading). Alteration to the natural hydrology is also a threat to this community (e.g., flooding or draining). Since pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps are embedded within barrens or rocky summits, fire suppression may be an additional threat to this community. Although invasive species are currently not a threat to pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps, reedgrass (Phragmites australis ssp. australis) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) may become a problem in the future. 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

Because pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps are naturally acidic and low in nutrients, they are particularly susceptible to alteration by elevated nutrient inputs. Peat swamps may require larger buffers than other wetland types because of their high susceptibility to changes in nutrient concentrations.

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 swamp. 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 pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps that have been unnaturally disturbed (e.g., remove obsolete impoundments and ditches in order to restore the natural hydrology). Prevent the spread of invasive exotic 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 occurrences statewide to advance documentation and classification of peatlands. A statewide review of the acidic peatlands including pitch pine-blueberry peat swamp is desirable.

Research Needs

Research is needed to fill information gaps about pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps, especially to advance our understanding of their classification, ecological processes (e.g., fire), hydrology, floristic variation, and characteristic fauna. A critical comparison of the New York examples with similar "pitch pine lowlands" in New Jersey is desirable

Rare Species

  • Chamaecyparis thyoides (Atlantic White Cedar) (guide)
  • Platanthera ciliaris (Orange Fringed Orchid) (guide)
  • Scleria minor (Slender Nut Sedge) (guide)
  • Scleria triglomerata (Whip Nut Sedge) (guide)


New York State Distribution

The range of this community is uncertain. It is currently known from the Erie-Ontario plain in Oneida County and the Shawangunk Hills in the Hudson Valley in Ulster County. The historical range of this community is unknown. Examples of pitch pine-blueberry peat swamp were sought, but not found on Long Island (MacDonald and Edinger 2000). Communities with similar composition called "pitch pine lowlands" have been described from the New Jersey Pine Barrens (Robichaud and Anderson 1994, Breden et al. 2001).

Global Distribution

Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps as described by NY Natural Heritage appear to be restricted to the Rome Sand Plains in central New York and the Northern Shawangunk Mountains in eastern New York.

Best Places to See

  • Sam's Point (Ulster County)
  • Rome Sand Plains Unique Area (Oneida County)

Identification Comments

General Description

Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamp communities have an open-canopy dominated by pitch pine (Pinus rigida), with associates gray birch (Betula populifolia), and red maple (Acer rubrum). They occur in shallow depressions in sand plains where peat has accumulated over a poorly drained sandy soil type, called an Ortstein. A dense shrub layer is present in the understory, dominated by highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), with associates that include northern wild raisin (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides), black chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa), velvetleaf huckleberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides), and sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). The ground layer is a hummocky carpet of peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.), with scattered herbaceous plants, such as wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), and bristly dewberry (Rubus hispidus).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

An open-canopy conifer swamp of sand plains regions, occurring on peat over sandy substrate. Pitch pine is a major canopy component, accompanied by gray birch and red maple. A dense tall shrub layer is present in the understory, dominated by highbush blueberry. Other tall and short shrubs are often present, including any of several ericaceous species.

Elevation Range

Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 450 feet and 2,200 feet.

Best Time to See

During midsummer, highbush blueberries come into fruit, and during the fall, the blueberry bushes turn dark red, creating an attractive contrast to the green of the pitch pines.

Pitch Pine-Blueberry Peat 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 / Leatherleaf / Peatmoss species Swamp Woodland (CEGL006194 )
  • Pitch Pine / Velvetleaf Huckleberry / Peatmoss species Swamp Woodland (CEGL006022 )

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.

  • Atlantic Coastal Plain Northern Bog (CES203.893 )
  • North-Central Interior and Appalachian Acidic Peatland (CES202.606 )

Characteristic Species

Trees > 5m

Acer rubrum

Betula populifolia (gray birch)

Nyssa sylvatica (black-gum, sour-gum)

Pinus rigida (pitch pine)

Shrubs 2 - 5m

Nemopanthus mucronatus

Photinia melanocarpa

Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)

Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides (northern wild-raisin)

Shrubs < 2m

Chamaedaphne calyculata (leatherleaf)

Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)

Kalmia angustifolia


Cornus canadensis (bunchberry)

Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen, teaberry)

Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)

Pteridium aquilinum

Rubus hispidus (swamp dewberry)

Nonvascular plants

Sphagnum spp.

Similar Ecological Communities

  • Black spruce-tamarack bog (guide)
  • Highbush blueberry bog thicket (guide)
  • Red maple-tamarack peat swamp (guide)
  • Rich hemlock-hardwood peat swamp (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 Pitch Pine-Blueberry Peat 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. Alger, K. Strakosch 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, NJ Department of Environmental Protection. Trenton, 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.

Damman, A.W.H. and T.W. French. 1987. The ecology of peat bogs of the glaciated northeastern United States: a community profile. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 85(7.16). 100 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. http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/ecocomm2014.pdf

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.

Leimanis, A. 1993. Vegetation and fire history of the Rome Sand Plains. The Nature Conservancy, Central and Western New York Chapter, Rochester, 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.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. 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.

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.

Thompson, John. 1996. Vegetation survey of the northern Shawangunk Mountains, Ulster County, New York. The Nature Conservancy, Eastern New York Chapter, Troy, New York.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Jennifer Garrett

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 22, 2017

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamp. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/pitch-pine-blueberry-peat-swamp/. Accessed March 19, 2019.

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