Historically, fires of moderate intensity naturally occurred on pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits every 5 to 25 years, which maintained the character of this community. Without fire, other woody species become more abundant. Depending on the fire regime, this community may be expressed as a mix of pitch pine, oaks, and heath species such as blueberry and huckleberry; a "scrub oak bald" with little pitch pine or heath species; or a "heath bald" with little pitch pine or oak.
Although there may be a few thousand occurrences statewide, there are probably fewer than 100 occurrences left in good condition, and the sizes are often relatively small. Many documented occurrences have good viability and many are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community has a somewhat limited statewide distribution (correlated to slightly acidic to low pH bedrock geology). Most examples are relatively small and disturbed. This community has probably declined substantially from historical numbers and nearly all of the currently documented occurrences are threatened by fire suppression, recreational overuse, and development.
The number and acreage of pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits in New York have probably declined slightly in recent decades due to fire suppression, antenna tower construction, recreational disturbances, and invasive species.
The number and acreage of pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits in New York have probably declined moderately from historical numbers as a result of fire suppression, summit clearing for development, and mining of mineral resources.
Pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits are threatened by development (especially plans for cellular telephone and radio towers, wind farms, etc.) and trampling by recreational visitors (e.g., mountain bikers, hang-gliders, and hikers). Given the stunted and gnarly growth form of summit trees, the community is only minimally threatened for timber resources. Summits on unprotected land may targeted for mining of mineral resources. Clearing in the adjacent forest may be a threat that provides corridors for invasive plants. Natural fire regimes (e.g., from lightning strikes) may be suppressed in some areas, but are apparently intact at many sites, especially in the Adirondacks. 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.
Management activities should include the development and implementation of prescribed burn plans at appropriate sites. Fragmenting features such as roads, abandoned tower clearings, and unnecessary trails should be reduced or minimized, and high-impact activities such as mountain biking and hang-gliding should be restricted to trails and least sensitive areas. Prevent the dumping of trash and off-trail trampling at heavily visited summits.
Soils are very thin within and around this community, and the effect of clearing and construction on soil retention and erosion must be considered prior to any development activities. Similarly, these soils are nutrient-poor, and any soil enrichment contamination (e.g., from septic leach fields or fertilized lawns) of this community can alter community structure and function. The open structure of this community is maintained by fire and presents a fire hazard to existing and proposed development. Unprotected structures located within or near this community are more susceptible to damage from fire.
Survey for occurrences statewide to advance documentation and classification of pitch pine-oak-oak-heath rocky summits. A statewide review of pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits is desirable. Continue searching for large sites in good condition (A- to AB-ranked).
Research the composition of pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits statewide in order to characterize variations. Collect sufficient plot data to support the recognition of several distinct pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits based on composition and by ecoregion. Research is needed to confirm the existence of heath-dominated summits (i.e., "heath balds") and oak dominated summits (e.g., "scrub oak balds" or "red oak rocky summits") and to assess these as potential new community types. Research the susceptibilty of this community to southern pine beetle infestation.
This community is currently known from the Catskill Peaks of the Appalachian Plateau in Ulster and Greene Counties, the Hudson Valley in Orange and Ulster Counties, the Taconic Highlands in Dutchess County, the Hudson Highlands in Orange and Putnam Counties, and the eastern Adirondack foothills in Washington County.
The range of this narrowly-defined community, the typical pitch pine-dominated variant, probably spans much of range of pitch pine covering much of the northeastern United States. A red pine-dominated variant is apparently limited to the northeastern U.S. and Great Lakes Basin. The broadly-defined community is estimated to range northeast to Maine, west to Michigan, and south along the Appalachian Mountains through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, possibly to Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
A community that occurs on warm, dry, rocky ridgetops and summits where the bedrock is non-calcareous (such as quartzite, sandstone, or schist), and the soils are more or less acidic. The vegetation may be sparse or patchy, with numerous rocky outcrops. This community is broadly defined and includes examples that may lack pines and instead are dominated by scrub oak or heath shrubs; this variation is apparently related to fire regime. Pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit communities are often surrounded by chestnut oak forest.
This community occurs on rocky slopes, ridges, or summits. When visiting these dry rocky sites, look for a short shrubby layer of heath species with scattered taller scrub oaks, tree oaks, and pitch pine. Characteristic species include pitch pine (Pinus rigida), chestnut oak (Quercus montana), red oak (Q. rubra), and scarlet oak (Q. coccinea). Other trees may include black cherry (Prunus serotina), red maple (Acer rubrum), gray birch (Betula populifolia), choke-cherry (Prunus virginiana), shadbush (Amelanchier arborea), white pine (Pinus strobus), and a few black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). Characteristic shrubs include scrub oak (Q. ilicifolia), common juniper (Juniperus communis), blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, V. pallidum), sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), and black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata). Other shrubs include highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), chokeberry (Aronia spp), and deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum). Characteristic herbs include Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), poverty-grass (Danthonia spicata), common hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), three-toothed cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata), and cow-wheat (Melampyrum lineare). Other herbs include bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and pink corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens) Characteristic lichens include various crustose, foliose, and fruticose lichens, such as Cetraria arenaria Cladina spp. and Cladonia spp. Characteristic mosses include hair cap moss (Polytrichum spp.) and pincushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum).
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 10 feet and 3,080 feet.
Blueberries and huckleberries offer refreshing treats when visiting this community type during midsummer. These heath species also turn vivid colors in early autumn, and contrast well with the evergreen pitch pines.
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.
Betula populifolia (gray birch)
Nyssa sylvatica (black-gum, sour-gum)
Pinus rigida (pitch pine)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak)
Quercus montana (chestnut oak)
Quercus rubra (northern red oak)
Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)
Quercus ilicifolia (scrub oak, bear oak)
Comptonia peregrina (sweet-fern)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
Vaccinium angustifolium (common lowbush blueberry)
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Danthonia spicata (poverty grass)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit. 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.
McVaugh, R. 1958. Flora of the Columbia County area, New York. Bull. 360. New York State Museum and Science Service. University of the State of New York. Albany, NY. 400 pp.
Motzkin, G., D.A. Orwig, and D.R. Foster. 2002. History and dynamics of a ridgetop pitch pine community. Mount Everett, Massachusetts. Harvard Forest Paper No. 25. Harvard Forest, Harvard University, Petersham, MA.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. 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.
Selender, M.D. 1980. Increment borings of pitch pine (Pinus rigida Mill., Pinaceae) from sites on the Shawangunk Ridge and the Ramapo Mountains of southeastern New York State: age and growth dynamics. Skenectada 2: 1-9.
Information for this guide was last updated on: April 23, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/pitch-pine-oak-heath-rocky-summit/. Accessed March 31, 2023.