Maritime Forest

Maritimus Nemus

The maritime forest community occupies 637 of the 8,501 acres and tends to occur in the central part of the refuge between the dunes and marshes. The maritime forest of the refuge is generally located on the back dunes of the barrier beach system in areas not directly influenced by storm-tide flooding and migrating dune systems. The forest is dominated by swamp black gum, red maple, sweetgum, white ash, loblolly pine, bald cypress, and water oak. It usually has a dense understory of wax myrtle, American hornbeam, swamp red bay, stiff dogwood, and other shrubs. There is usually not a notable herbaceous understory. 

Forests that are close to the ocean are low, generally less than 20 feet, and exhibit dense lateral branching. This lack of apical dominance is caused by wind and salt spray. Dominant species include live oak, red cedar, and laurel oak. Understory shrub species include American holly, black cherry, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and grape. Forests that are further away from the ocean are taller (20 to 40 feet) and exhibit a more open canopy that is structurally more diverse. Loblolly pine is a dominant member in this community, along with live oak and American holly. Yaupon holly, hudsonia, greenbrier, and grape are common understory species. 

The primary value of the maritime forest is that it helps reduce erosion caused by storm surge and wave action. Other benefits of the forest include protection of loose sandy soils from wind erosion; accumulation and storage of freshwater; mineral iron filtration; production of soil by trapping blowing sand; deposition of humus; and wildlife habitat.

Facts About Maritime Forest

  • Swamp Black Gum
  • Red Maple
  • Sweetgum
  • White Ash
  • Loblolly Pine
  • Bald Cypress
  • Water Oak