American chaffseed occurs in fire-maintained longleaf pine flatwoods and savannas. Often it is found in ecotonal areas between peaty wetlands and xeric sandy soils. Kral described American chaffseed habitat in 1983 as an open grass-sedge system in moist acidic sandy loams or sandy peat loams. Chaffseed is dependent on factors like fire, mowing, or fluctuating water tables to maintain the open to partly-open conditions that it requires. Historically, the species probably existed on savannas and pinelands throughout the coastal plain and on sandstone knobs and plains inland where frequent, naturally occurring fires maintained these sub-climax communities. Under these conditions, herbaceous plants like American chaffseed were favored over trees and shrubs.
Most of the surviving populations, and all of the most vigorous populations, are in areas that are still subject to frequent fire. These fire-maintained habitats include plantations where prescribed fire is part of a management regime for quail and other game species, army base impact zones that burn regularly because of artillery shelling and forest management areas that are burned to maintain habitat for wildlife like the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This species also find suitable habitats on various private lands that are burned to maintain open fields. Fire may be important to the species in ways that are not yet understood, such as for germination of seed or in the formation of the connection to the host plant.
Areas such as marshes or swamps that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture.
A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.
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