Pinus pungens (Table Mountain pine) stands are rare conifer-dominated communities that occur on xeric ridges and upper slopes throughout the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. At the northern end of this range, this uncommon forest community is essentially unstudied. Therefore, in 2006 I initiated a dendroecology study of three Pinus pungens stands growing in Pennsylvania to better understand their current conditions, histories, and likely future succession. These stands contained from four to 14 tree species with Pinus pungens or Quercus montana (chestnut oak) dominating the main canopy. Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak), Acer rubrum (red maple), or Nyssa sylvatica (black gum) were the primary species of the midstory. Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) was the principal understory shrub. Two of the communities had Pinus pungens and Quercus montana trees dating back into the mid-1800s and were likely heavily influenced by the charcoal iron industry of that century. Periodic fire was also part of their history. The other Pinus pungens community arose following abandonment of an agricultural field in the 1910s and fire does not seem to have been a factor in its ecological history. Two of the communities appear to be losing their Pinus pungens component as their understories are dominated by hardwood saplings or shrubs and there are no pine seedlings present. Perpetuating these and other Pinus pungens communities in Pennsylvania will require reducing the understory vegetation and creating suitable seed beds for Pinus pungens seedling establishment.
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