The pitch that was produced from pitch pine (Pinus rigida) sap was used to seal seams in ships and preserve wood during the American colonial period. The pitch can be obtained by scraping it off the tree in areas that have been wounded naturally, or by cutting marks along the tree's bark. Therefore, unlike other pines, few pitch pines were logged during this time period. If the cuts were made infrequently, the tree was not damaged.
There are about a hundred occurrences statewide (number and acres may be artificially elevated by development fragmentation and broad classification). Several documented occurrences have good viability and several are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community has a restricted statewide distribution (correlated to pine barrens and sandy soils). Most examples are moderate in size and a few are high quality. Several pitch pine-oak forests are threatened by fire suppression.
The acreage of pitch pine-oak forest in New York has probably declined slightly in recent decades due to fire suppression, disturbance by off-road vehicles, trash dumping, and development. The number of pitch pine-oak forests may have increased slightly from historical numbers as formerly large matrix examples were fragmented by development into numerous large and small patches.
The acreage of pitch pine-oak forests in New York has probably declined substantially from historical numbers due to fire suppression, fragmentation, disturbance by off-road vehicles, trash dumping, and development. The number of pitch pine-oak forests may have increased substantially from historical numbers as formerly large matrix examples were fragmented by development into numerous large and small patches.
As a fire-dependent natural community, the primary threat to pitch pine-oak forests is the suppression of fire. Other threats to this community include fragmenting development (e.g., residential development, roads), recreational overuse (e.g., ATVs, hikers, mountain bikes, trash dumping), and habitat alteration (e.g., excessive logging, construction of utility ROWs). Several examples of pitch pine-oak forest are threatened by invasive species, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolaris).The oak trees in pitch pine-oak forests may be threatened by the non-native gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) which is one of North America's most destructive forest pests. The gypsy moth is known to feed on the foliage of hundreds of species of plants in North America but its most common hosts are oaks (Quercus spp.) and aspen (Populus spp.). Gypsy moth populations are typically eruptive in North America; in any forest stand densities may fluctuate from near 1 egg mass per ha to over 1,000 per ha. When densities reach very high levels, trees may become completely defoliated. Several successive years of defoliation, along with other biotic and abiotic stress factors, may ultimately result in tree mortality (McManus et al. 1980, Liebold 2003 ). 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.
Develop and implement presribed burn plans at appropriate sites. Reduce or minimize fragmenting features, such as roads, abandoned clearings, unnecessary trails, etc. Restrict mountain bikes and ATVs to designated trails and least sensitive areas, and prevent dumping of trash.
Management should focus on activities that help maintain regeneration of the species associated with this community. Deer have been shown to have negative effects on forest understories (Miller et al. 1992, Augustine and French 1998, Knight 2003) and management efforts should strive to ensure that regenerating trees and shrubs are not so heavily browsed that they cannot replace overstory trees. Encourage selective logging in areas that are under active forestry.
Strive to minimize fragmentation of large forest blocks by focusing development on forest edges, minimizing the width of roads and road corridors extending into forests, and designing cluster developments that minimize the spatial extent of the development. Development projects with the least impact on large forests and all the plants and animals living within these forests are those developments built on brownfields or other previously developed land. These projects have the added benefit of matching sustainable development practices (for example, see: The President's Council on Sustainable Development 1999 final report, US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification process at http://www.usgbc.org/).
Survey for occurrences statewide to advance documentation and classification of pitch pine-oak forests. A statewide review of pitch pine pine-oak forests is desirable. Continue searching for large sites in good condition (A or B-ranked).
Research the composition of pitch pine-oak forests statewide in order to characterize variations (e.g., coastal plain, inland, and northern types). Collect sufficient plot data to support the recognition of several distinct pitch pine-oak forest types based on composition and by ecoregion. Determine the optimal fire regime for this community.
Pitch pine-oak forests are primarily known from the Suffolk County portion of the Atlantic Coastal Plain where it historically occurred as a matrix forest associated with the Central Long Island Pine Barrens where large examples persist. Smaller examples of this community are also known from Hudson Valley Glacial Lake Plain and the outwash plains along Lake Champlain in Clinton County and probably Essex County. Within the Hudson Valley Glacial Lake Plain, pitch pine-oak forests are known from Albany County (Albany Pine Bush), Saratoga County (Saratoga Sandplains), and Warren County (Glen Falls Sandplain). Small patches may occur in the Mohawk River Valley and the hills of the Mid-Hudson River Valley in Rensselaer County. As more data are collected, the inland sites may be recognized as distinct communities separate from the coastal plain type.
This broadly-defined community probably occupies only sandy outwash areas on the Atlantic and Saint Lawrence drainages of the northeastern United States. This range is estimated to extend northeast to southern Maine, northwest to northern Lake Champlain, New York, southeast to Cape Cod and the offshore islands of Massachusetts, and south through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, possibly to Delaware. Small examples are possible farther west around Lake Ontario (e.g., near Plessis Flat Rock, New York or near the Lake Ontario dunes of Ontario), or farther south in the central Appalachians.
A mixed forest that occurs on well-drained sandy soils of glacial outwash plains or moraines. The dominant canopy species are pitch pine (Pinus rigida) with one or more of the following oaks: black oak (Quercus velutina), red oak (Q. rubra), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), and white oak (Q. alba). The relative abundance and distribution of the pitch pine and oak species varies greatly. The shrub layer is well developed, with scattered patches of scrub oak (Q. ilicifolia), and an extensive cover of blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium, V. pallidum) and huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata). The herbaceous layer is sparse and may include bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) (Edinger et al. 2002).
Pitch pine-oak forests are mature, closed canopy forests with a variable relative abundance of pitch pine and oak species, an extensive layer of heath low shrubs, and scattered patches of scrub oak. This community is present in areas of outwash plains and moraines.
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 10 feet and 724 feet.
During midsummer, two species of lowbush blueberry come into fruit, producing a tasty snack.
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.
Pinus rigida (pitch pine)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak)
Quercus rubra (northern red oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Quercus ilicifolia (scrub oak, bear oak)
Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
Vaccinium angustifolium (common lowbush blueberry)
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen, teaberry)
Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Pitch Pine-Oak Forest. 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%.
Bernard, J.M. and F.K. Seischab. 1995. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida Mill.) communities in northeastern New York State. American Midland Naturalist 134:294-306.
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.
Greller, Andrew M. 1977. A classification of mature forests on Long Island, New York. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 140 (4):376-382.
Kerlinger, P., and C. Doremus. 1981. Habitat disturbance and the decline of dominant avian species in pine barrens of the northeastern United States. American Birds 35:16-20.
Liebold, S. 2003. Gypsy Moth in North America. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station, Morgantown, WV.
McManus, M, N. Schneebergerm R. Reardon, and G. Mason. 1980. Gypsy Moth. Forest Insect and Disease Leaflet 162. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, D.C.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2022. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
Olsvig, L.S. 1979. Pattern and diversity analysis of the irradiated oak-pine forest, Brookhaven, New York. Vegetatio 40(2):65-78.
Olsvig, L.S. 1980. A comparative study of northeastern Pine Barrens vegetation. Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 479 pp.
Olsvig, L.S., J.F. Cryan and R.H. Whittaker. 1979. Vegetational gradients of the pine plains and barrens of Long Island, New York. In: Forman, R.T.T. ed. 1979. Pine Barrens: Ecosystems and Landscape.
Reiners, W.A. 1967. Relationships between vegetational strata in the pine barrens of central Long Island, New York. Bulletin Torrey Botanical Club 94(2): 87-99.
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.
Seischab, F. K., and J. M. Bernard. 1991. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida Mill.) communities in central and western New York. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 118:412-423.
Seischab, F.K, and J.M. Bernard. 1996. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida Mill.) communities in Hudson Valley region of New York. American Midland Naturalist 136:42-56.
Seischab, F.K. and J.M. Bernard. 1994. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida Mill.) communities on Long Island, New York. Unpublished article. Department of Biology, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY and Department of Biology, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.
This guide was authored by: Jennifer Garrett
Information for this guide was last updated on: April 29, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2022. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch pine-oak forest. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/pitch-pine-oak-forest/. Accessed January 16, 2022.