Beach Dune

Beach and dune habitats can be found along the entire coastline above the mean high tide line, but occur primarily on the ocean side of North Carolina’s barrier islands (the Outer Banks).  They are seasonally flooded by high spring tides and storm surges but rainwater and salt spray contribute to moist conditions in some areas.  Upper beach vegetation includes sea rocket, Dixie sandmat, seaside sandmat, Russian thistle, and seabeach amaranth. Learn more...

Dry Longleaf Pine

Longleaf pine habitats can range from moist to very well drained sites, including Mesic Pine Flatwoods, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Xeric Sandhill Scrub, and Coastal Fringe Sandhill.  These types often grade into each other or occur as a mosaic on the landscape.  Frequent fire maintains a canopy dominated by longleaf pine, an open midstory, and an understory dominated by wiregrass or other grass/herb ground cover.  When fire is absent or infrequent, scrub oaks, other hardwoods, and shrubs become common in the midstory and shade out native grasses and forbs.  
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Dry Coniferous Woodlands

Non-longleaf pine coniferous woodlands occur throughout the Coastal Plain in areas planted in upland loblolly pine or slash pine.  This habitat might also include sites that, due to lack of fire, lost their original longleaf component and naturally regenerated in other pine species.  The understory and midstory in these areas may be dominated by dense growing pocosin shrubs (e.g., wax myrtle, inkberry, red bay, and titi) and hardwood tree species such as oaks, hickories, sweetgum or red maple.  The exact midstory and understory species composition and structural diversity in plantations will be influenced by past management strategies and rotation schedules. This in turn determines the wildlife species present at various stages in the history of the stands. Learn more...

Early Succession

Early successional and scrub-shrub habitats in the Coastal Plain are characterized by low woody vegetation and herbaceous plants.  They are created by disturbances like clearcutting, disking, or burning and are often found at the transition between agricultural fields and nearby woodlands.  This habitat also includes agricultural hayfields, pastures, and field borders.  Early successional habitats can also be mimicked in the understory of very open pine stands.  Historically, these habitats were created by catastrophic natural fires, anthropogenic fires, large-scale wind events, insect pests, or pathogens such as fungal diseases.  Early successional habitats are found throughout the region. Learn more...

Estuarine Communities

These include salt marsh, brackish marsh, salt flat, sand flat, mud flats, algal mats, salt scrub, estuarine island communities, and sounds along coastal North Carolina.  Marsh habitats usually develop on the mainland side of the barrier islands after sand is deposited during storm events.  They also develop on the mainland side of the sounds and in the lower reaches of our rivers as sea-level rise, salt intrusion or storms kill forested or shrub-scrub habitats.  Learn more...

Floodplain Forest

The Coastal Plain floodplain forest habitat includes levee forest, cypress-gum swamps, bottomland hardwoods, and alluvial floodplains with small poorly defined fluvial features (such as Small Stream Swamps), as well as semipermanent impoundments (beaver ponds and mill ponds), sand and mud bars, and oxbow lakes.  Floodplain forest may be associated with blackwater rivers (originating in the Coastal Plain) or brownwater rivers (originating the Piedmont or Mountains but flowing into the Coastal Plain).  Blackwater rivers carry little inorganic sediment so flooding does not provide a substantial nutrient input as it does in brownwater systems (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  In the southeast, floodplain forest systems of the Coastal Plain have been lost or altered by development, drainage, agriculture and logging and are now only small fragments and sections of the original millions of acres present before European settlement (Weller and Stegman 1977).  Several of the species of wildlife that once called large floodplain systems home are gone or greatly reduced in numbers.  Learn more...

Lakes and Reservoirs

The only natural lakes in North Carolina occur in the Coastal Plain.  Basins range from Carolina bays to peatland depressions.  Most natural lakes in North Carolina are acidic and therefore have relatively low productivity.  Lake Waccamaw is an exception, with neutral pH and a high calcium content.  This lake is home to many endemic species and is therefore of extreme importance. Learn more...

Maritime Forest

Maritime communities are found along barrier islands and the mainland North Carolina coast on stabilized upper dunes and flats protected from salt water flooding and the most extreme salt spray. Hydrology is variable and some of the Maritime Shrub communities are subject to heavy salt spray (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  All of the barrier island maritime forest/shrub communities occur in very dynamic environments that are often disturbed or even permanently converted to other community types. Learn more...

Mesic Forest

Mesic forests in the Coastal Plain region occur on moist portions of upland habitat protected from fire, north-facing slopes, high sections of outer floodplains and less commonly on upland flats surrounded by peatland.  They may also be found on island ridges surrounded by swamps.  These habitats can have well-developed understory and shrub layers, and are characterized by mesophytic canopy species such as American beech, tulip poplar, sweetgum, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, American elm, black walnut, white oak, swamp chestnut oak and red oak.  Coastal Plain subtypes include Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forests and Basic Mesic Forests. Learn more...

Nonalluvial Mineral Wetlands

These wetlands occur on poorly drained areas of the eastern Coastal Plain.  Saturation is due to poor drainage and sheet flow from adjoining peatlands.  Nonalluvial mineral wetlands are more nutrient-rich than pocosins, but not as rich as floodplain wetlands.  In the wettest areas, bald cypress, swamp black gum, and red maple dominate.  Where these areas transition to peatland, loblolly pine, pond pine, and Atlantic white cedar may also be present.  In less saturated nonalluvial wetlands, trees characteristic of bottomland hardwood systems dominate:  cherrybark oak, laurel oak, swamp chestnut oak, tulip poplar, sweetgum, American elm, and red maple. Learn more...

Oak Forest

In the Coastal Plain, two examples of oak dominated natural communities include Dry Oak- Hickory Forest and Dry-Mesic Oak-Hickory Forest (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  Dry Oak-Hickory Forest is typically a more upland community and was once one of the predominant community types in the Piedmont, and although not as common in the Coastal Plain it was clearly widespread before European settlement and land clearing (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  Dry-Mesic Oak-Hickory Forest was historically found throughout the Piedmont and Coastal Plain but much of this area in the Coastal Plain is now in agriculture or pine plantations (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  In very dry settings, post oak and blackjack oak may dominate. Learn more...

Pocosin

Peatland communities of the Coastal Plain include low pocosin, high pocosin, pond pine woodlands, peatland Atlantic white cedar forest, bay forest, streamhead pocosin, and streamhead Atlantic white cedar forest.  These communities occur on peatlands of poorly drained interstream flats, and peat-filled Carolina bay depressions and swales of the eastern coastal plain (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  The streamhead communities occur primarily in the Sandhills along small headwater streams, either on flat bottoms or extending up adjacent seepage slopes. Learn more...

Riverine Aquatic Communities

Coastal Plain riverine habitats (including streams) are important for a number of wildlife species, especially to herpetofauna that utilize aquatic habitats during part or all of their life cycle, and to aquatic mammals such as the manatee. Examples of birds that utilize river and streams include the Louisiana waterthrush, prothonotary warbler, many waterfowl species, wading birds like herons, and some shorebirds. Many of the issues identified in the floodplain forest section will also have relevance for these taxa (Weller and Stegman 1977).  These habitats are also important for a variety of mammals that are semi-aquatic (e.g., muskrats, beavers, and river otters) and/or that have an aquatic food base, such as the southeastern bat. 
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Small Wetland Communities

These communities include vernal pools, cypress savanna, small depression ponds, beaver ponds, small depression pocosin, interdune ponds, clay-based Carolina bays and limesink depressions.  They are often mimicked by barrow sites along small dirt roads.  These depressions may hold water for a significant portion of the year and most are important habitat for many rare or poorly understood reptiles and amphibians. Learn more...

Tidal Swamp Forest and Wetlands

These habitats occur along rivers or sounds in areas where flooding is influenced by lunar or wind tides.  Fresh water input may heavily influence the salt content. Vegetation may range from Cypress-Gum swamps, characterized by swamp black gum, water tupelo, and bald cypress, to freshwater marshes containing giant cordgrass, sawgrass, cattails, American threesquare, black needle rush, spike-sedges, southern wildrice, arrowhead, and marsh fern. Regularly flooded herbaceous sites are reported to have high productivity, equivalent to salt marshes (Schafale and Weakley 1990).
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Wet Pine Savanna

This habitat type includes Pine Savanna, Sandhill Seep, and Wet Pine Flatwoods communities, all of which are mineral wetlands that under natural conditions are subject to frequent burning.  With fire, they are characterized by an open canopy dominated by longleaf pine or pond pine, an open midstory, and an understory comprised of some mixture of wiregrass, cane, herbs, and pocosin shrubs depending on soil moisture and fire frequency.  Some of the herbaceous plant diversity in these systems, particularly in Pine Savannas, is the highest in temperate North America if burned on a consistent and frequent basis.  When fire is suppressed, a dense shrub understory develops and herb diversity declines drastically.  These pine communities are similar to dry longleaf pine communities in that they often grade into each other and can occur as a mosaic on the landscape.  They may also grade into dry longleaf pine communities, pond pine woodlands, and pocosins. Learn more...

N.C. River Basins


North Carolina River Basins
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Click here for more information about N.C. River Basins
(N.C. Environmental Education website)

N.C. Ecoregions Map