What are heath species? A heath species is a member of the plant family Ericaceae, which includes the widely familiar blueberry and cranberry species (Vaccinium spp.). Many heath species are well-adapted to thrive under harsh environmental conditions, including excessively dry or wet soils, and low nutrient availability. In addition, some heath species can endure harsh winters and damaging ice. Common heath species of pitch pine-oak-heath woodlands include lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, V. pallidum), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).
There are less than a hundred occurrences statewide. A few documented occurrences have good viability and very few 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-heath woodlands are threatened by fire suppression.
The number and acreage of pitch pine-oak-heath woodlands in New York have probably declined slightly in recent decades due to fire suppression, disturbance by off-road vehicles, trash dumping, and development.
The number and acreage of pitch pine-oak-heath woodlands in New York have probably declined substantially from historical numbers due to fire suppression, fragmentation, disturbance by off-road vehicles, trash dumping, and development.
As a fire-dependent natural community, the primary threat to pitch pine-oak-heath woodlands is the suppression of fire. Other threats to this community include development (e.g., residential and commercial development, roads), recreational overuse (e.g., ATVs, hiking trails) and habitat alteration (e.g., excessive logging, construction of utility ROWs). A few examples of pitch pine-oak-heath woodland are threatened by invasive species, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). 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 prescribed 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.
Soils are very thin within this community, and the effect of clearing and construction on soil retention and erosion must be considered during any development activities. These soils are also acidic and nutrient-poor, and any soil enrichment contamination (e.g., from septic leach fields or fertilized lawns) 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.
Continue searching for large sites in good condition (A- to AB-ranked).
Research the composition of pitch pine-oak-heath woodlands on Long Island in order to characterize variations. Determine the optimal fire regime for this community. Further research is needed on the role that frost pockets play in maintaining this community.
This community is apparently restricted to the Long Island Lowland and Moraine subsection of the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain.
Occurs in the coastal areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey.
A pine barrens community that occurs on well-drained sandy soils in eastern Long Island (and possibly on sandy or rocky soils in upstate New York). The structure of this community is intermediate between a shrub-savanna and a woodland. This community is adapted to periodic fires; the fire frequency has not been documented, but it probably burns less frequently than pitch pine-scrub oak barrens (i.e., more than 15 years between fires).
A pine barrens community with a shrub layer dominated by scrub oaks, which often form dense thickets. These scrub oak thickets comprise 40 to 70% of the community. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and white oak (Quercus alba) are the most abundant trees, forming a canopy with 30 to 60% cover. The shrub layer is dominated by scrub oaks (Quercus ilicifolia, Q. prinoides), and includes a few heath shrubs. Plants occupying the woodland floor include bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), heathers (Hudsonia ericoides, H. tomentosa), and Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica).
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 20 feet and 1,369 feet.
The heather species and bearberry come into bloom in early summer, and later, the lowbush blueberry species come into fruit, providing 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)
Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus ilicifolia (scrub oak, bear oak)
Quercus prinoides (dwarf chestnut oak)
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry)
Comptonia peregrina (sweet-fern)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
Hudsonia ericoides (golden-heather)
Hudsonia tomentosa (beach-heather)
Vaccinium angustifolium (common lowbush blueberry)
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Lechea mucronata (hairy pinweed)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath 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%.
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.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. 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. 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: Shelley L. Cooke
Information for this guide was last updated on: April 25, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch pine-oak-heath woodland. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/pitch-pine-oak-heath-woodland/. Accessed May 17, 2021.