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Table of Contents >>  Sensitive Areas: Additional Reading << 7.1 Natural Communities and Protected Plants >> 7.2 Seeps



Protecting and conserving natural communities and threatened and endangered plants is essential to maintain native biodiversity.

Rich Woods

Rich woods are a special subset of hardwood forest communities. These communities share a diverse assemblage of plants restricted to nutrient-rich conditions. Many of New Hampshire’s rare plants occur in rich woods. Sugar maple, white ash, and a species-rich herbaceous layer are hallmarks of rich woods. Ferns, perennial forbs, and sedges are abundant, including many species that flower in early spring, but few shrubs grow in rich woods. In New Hampshire, rich woods typically occur in south-facing locations associated with bedrock types that weather to form enriched soils, a combination of conditions infrequent in the state.

Natural communities are recurring assemblages (groups) of species found in particular physical environments. Familiar examples include hemlock - beech - oak - pine forest, and sugar maple dominated rich mesic forest. The N.H. Natural Heritage Bureau (NHNHB) recognizes 193 natural communities, of which 42 are wooded uplands and 38 are wooded wetlands or floodplain forests.

NHNHB evaluates the ecological significance of natural communities and assigns a quality rank. Quality ranks are a measure of the ecological integrity of a community relative to other examples of that community. The rankings are based on community size, ecological condition, and landscape context (i.e., where the community is located). Exemplary communities include (1) all viable occurrences of rare natural community types, and (2) higher-quality examples of more common communities. Exemplary natural communities occupy only a small part of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire has about 1,500 species of native vascular plants, about 25 percent of which are protected by the New Hampshire Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A). Another three plants are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, only one of which—small whorled pogonia—occurs in forests.

Many threatened and endangered plants occur in nonforested habitats such as marshes, riverbanks, and alpine areas. Threatened and endangered forest plants are largely restricted to uncommon habitat types. Black maple, river birch, hackberry, and jack pine are four threatened or endangered tree species that may reach harvestable size. Black maple typically occurs with sugar maple on moist, rich soils of river bottoms in mixed hardwood forests in southern New Hampshire. River birch is restricted to streambanks and other moist places. Hackberry usually occurs on rich, moist sites along streambanks or on floodplains. Jack pine occurs on only a few acidic rocky summits at moderately high elevations in the White Mountains, and in lakeshore settings north of the mountains.

The New Hampshire Native Plant Protection Act, RSA 217-A, protects and conserves plants for human needs and enjoyment, the interests of science, and the state's economy. The NHNHB administers the Act, including collecting and analyzing data on the status, location, and distribution of rare or declining native plants and exemplary natural communities, as well as developing and implementing measures for their protection, conservation, enhancement, and management.

The NHNHB is not a regulatory agency, and its statute specifically gives private property owners the right to take protected plant species on their own lands. The statute directs state agencies to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of any protected plant species. Prohibited acts include exporting or importing protected species into or out of New Hampshire, transporting protected species within the state, and taking, possessing, and selling any protected species from public property or property of another.

The Endangered Species Act applies to federally listed threatened and endangered species, three of which occur in New Hampshire as of 2009. Rights and prohibitions resemble the New Hampshire Native Plant Protection Act, though the right to take protected species on one’s own property is less explicit.


Small Whorled Pogonia

Small whorled pogonia is a federally threatened orchid. It grows in hemlock - beech - oak - pine forests along with Indian cucumber root, New York fern, partridgeberry, downy rattlesnake plantain, and witch hazel. As of 2008, NHNHB identified 49 populations, although only six have good or excellent viability. The plant tolerates some disturbance and persists in stands managed for timber. Habitat management experiments (e.g., canopy thinning) may maintain population viability, but the long-term beneficial effects haven't been confirmed.


Maintain natural communities and threatened and endangered plants.




1.3 Forest Management Planning; 2.1 New Hampshire Forest Types; 4.2 Wetlands; 4.3 Forest Management in Riparian Areas; 7.2 Seeps; 7.3 Vernal Pools; 7.4 Pine Barrens; 7.5 Old-Growth Forests; 7.6 High-Elevation Forests.


USDI Fish and Wildlife Service. Endangered Species Act of 1973. http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/esact.html Accessed June 8, 2010.

Maine Natural Areas Program Rare Plant Fact Sheets. http://www.maine.gov/doc/nrimc/mnap/features/plantlist.htm Accessed February 27, 2010.

N.H.Natural Heritage Bureau. http://www.nhdfl.org/about-forests-and-lands/bureaus/natural-heritage-bureau Accessed February 27, 2010.

RSA 217-A. 1987. N.H. Native Plant Protection Act. http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/XIX/217-A/217-A-mrg.htm Accessed May 27, 2010.

Sperduto, D.D., and W.F. Nichols. 2004. Natural Communities of New Hampshire. N.H. Natural Heritage Bureau, Dept.of Resources and Economic Development, Concord, N.H. 229 p.

Sensitive Areas: Additional Reading << 7.1 Natural Communities and Protected Plants >> 7.2 Seeps

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