Species composition, detritus, and soil data from 97 boreal forest stands along a transect in central Canada were analysed using Correspondence Analysis to determine the dominant environmental/site variables that differentiate these forest stands. Picea mariana stands were densely clustered together on the understorey DCA plot, suggesting a consistent understorey species composition (feather mosses and Ericaceae), whereas Populus tremuloides stands had the most diverse understorey species composition (ca. 30 species, mostly shrubs and herbs). Pinus banksiana stands had several characteristic species of reindeer lichens (Cladina spp.), but saplings and Pinus seedlings were rare. Although climatic variables showed large variation along the transect, the CCA results indicated that site conditions are more important in determining species composition and differentiating the stand types. Forest floor characteristics (litter and humus layer, woody debris, and drainage) appear to be among the most important site variables. Stands of Picea had significantly higher average carbon (C) densities in the combined litter and humus layer (43 530 kg-C.ha−1) than either Populus (25 500 kg-C.ha−1) or Pinus (19 400 kg-C.ha−1). The thick surface organic layer in lowland Picea stands plays an important role in regulating soil temperature and moisture, and organic-matter decomposition, which in turn affect the ecosystem C-dynamics. During forest succession after a stand-replacing disturbance (e.g. fires), tree biomass and surface organic layer thickness increase in all stand types as forests recover; however, woody biomass detritus first decreases and then increases after ca. 80 yr. Soil C densities show slight decrease with ages in Populus stands, but increase in other stand types. These results indicate the complex C-transfer processes among different components (tree biomass, detritus, forest floor, and soil) of boreal ecosystems at various stages of succession.Abbreviations: BFTCS = Boreal Forest Transect Case Study; BOREAS = BOReal Ecosystem-Atmosphere Study; DCCA = Detrended Canonical Correspondence Analysis; NSA = Northern study area; SSA = Southern study area.