Canebrakes formerly occupied hundreds of thousands of hectares across the southeastern USA, but habitat conversion and fire suppression have reduced their size and extent. Currently, canebrakes are among the rarest vegetative communities in the southeastern USA. Research has focused on Arundinaria gigantea (river cane), with very little focus on Arundinaria tecta (switch cane). The fire history, area, associated flora, and species frequency of 13 canebrakes, dominated by switch cane, were examined at three Department of the Army locations and one game land in the Sandhills physiographic region. We determined canebrake area by identifying its unique vegetative signature in aerial photography at three time steps: earliest aerial photography, the beginning of the recorded burn history, and current aerial photography. We compared fire-return intervals to changes in canebrake area. We created a checklist and tallied 330 taxa of vascular plants (plus Sphagnum sp.) from the 13 canebrakes in our study and calculated species frequency. Estimated area of the 13 observed canebrakes has increased from 25.6 ha historically to 592.8 ha. Mean fire-return interval is within a range of 1–2.3 yr. As fire-return intervals decrease, canebrake area increases, but that increase starts to decline after 2 yr. The highest number of taxa recorded for individual canebrakes were found on Fort Jackson, South Carolina, at Buffalo Creek (236 species) and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at Black Creek (201 species). Species frequency demonstrates that canebrakes are capable of supporting a mix of herbaceous, shrubby, and arboreal species, which includes rare taxa.
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Vol. 81 • No. 4