There are two shrubby oaks characteristic of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens: Scrub Oak or Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) and Dwarf Chinquapin Oak (Quercus prinoides). Scrub Oak leaves have bristle-tipped teeth or lobes. Dwarf Chinquapin Oak leaves have rounded to acutely pointed teeth or lobes with an apical papilla (projection) and are not bristle-tipped.
This is a globally rare natural community with only six documented occurrences statewide. Very few documented occurrences have good viability and very few are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community has a very restricted statewide distribution (correlated to pine barrens and sandy soils). Most examples are moderate in size and a few are good quality. Most pitch pine-scrub oak barrens are located within a suburban landscape and are threatened by development, invasive species, and fire suppression.
The number and acreage of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens 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-scrub oak barrens in New York have probably had very large declines 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-scrub oak barrens is the suppression of fire. Other threats to this community include fragmenting development (e.g., residential, agricultural, commercial, roads), recreational overuse (e.g., ATV use, hiking, trash dumping), and habitat alteration (e.g., excessive logging, utility ROWs). A few examples of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens are threatened by invasive species, such as black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), aspens (Populus tremuloides, P. grandidentata), shrubby honeysuckles (Lonicera tatarica, L. morrowii), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), and garlic mustard (Alliara petiolata). 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 residential and commercial development, roads, abandoned clearings, unnecessary trails, etc. Restrict mountain bikes and ATVs to designated trails and least sensitive areas, and prevent dumping of trash. Remove or control invasive species where appropriate.
Soils are very sandy and well-drained within this community, and the effect of clearing and construction on soil retention and erosion must be considered during any development activities. Similarly, these soils are 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.
Inventory all occurrences with records greater than ten years old. Inventory sites in Saratoga County to determine if this community is present.
Determine the optimal fire regime for this community. Research the composition of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens on Long Island and compare them to inland examples (e.g., Albany Pine Bush) in order to characterize variations and possibly recognize two separate types.
In New York, this community is restricted to the following three areas underlain by glacial sand deposits: 1) the Hudson Valley in Albany and Warren Counties within the Hudson Glacial Lake Plains subsection, 2) the Long Island Lowland and Moraine subsection of the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain in Suffolk County, and 3) in Saratoga County within the Saratoga Sandplains.
This community is known from the Hudson-Mohawk valley in eastern New York, west-central Long Island, and the inland regions of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
A pine barrens community with a shrub layer dominated by scrub oaks underlain by heath species. The shrub layer forms a thicket that covers 60 to 80% of the community. Embedded within the shrub thickets are small patches of savanna, dominated by various forbs and prairie grasses (i.e., successional northern sandplain grasslands). The community occurs on well-drained sandy soils that have developed on sand dunes, glacial till, and outwash. This community is adapted to and maintained by periodic fires with a frequency ranging from 6 to 15 years.
Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is the dominant tree and forms an open canopy of 20 to 60% cover. The shrub layer is dominated by scrub oaks (Quercus ilicifolia, Q. prinoides), and heath species such as lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, V. pallidum), and black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata). Scattered within the shrub thicket are savanna openings dominated by herbaceous species such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), bush-clovers (Lespedeza spp.), and wild lupine (Lupinus perennis).
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 70 feet and 485 feet.
In the spring, summer and fall pitch pine-scrub oak barrens can be very hot and dry. Remember to bring drinking water and sunscreen. Fall is good time of year to see the scrub oak thickets turn color and perhaps avoid some of the biting insects.
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)
Populus tremuloides (trembling aspen, quaking aspen)
Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak)
Quercus ilicifolia (scrub oak, bear oak)
Quercus prinoides (dwarf chestnut oak)
Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey-tea)
Comptonia peregrina (sweet-fern)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
Vaccinium angustifolium (common lowbush blueberry)
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Lespedeza capitata (round-headed bush-clover)
Lysimachia quadrifolia (whorled-loosestrife)
Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens. 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%.
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Widoff, L. 1988. Pitch pine/scrub oak barrens in Maine. Planning Report No. 86. Critical Areas Program, Maine State Planning Office, Augusta, ME, and Maine Natural Heritage Program, Topsham, ME. 104 pp.
Information for this guide was last updated on: April 29, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2020. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/pitch-pine-scrub-oak-barrens/. Accessed December 4, 2020.