Natural Communities

Lowland Forest
Lowland Forest

NPS Photo

Lowland/Floodplain Forest

Since the C&O Canal borders along the Potomac River, much of the forest that exists along the river's edge are in low-lying floodplains. These areas can be subject to high flows of water from the Potomac River, causing the soil to become moist or at times, temporarily submerged. Many native plants found here have shallow roots and like moist soils, so they are well adapted to living in these habitats. Trees in this forest type can include: American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), Box Elder (Acer negundo), and Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Native components of the understory are often young Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) trees and Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs as well as herbaceous plants like Lizard's-Tail (Saururus cernuus).
Upland Forest
Upland Forest

NPS Forest

Upland Forest

The other type of forest community that can be found within the C&O Canal is upland forest. Upland forests are generally established higher in elevation from the reaches of flooding river or canal waters, allowing a different variety of plant species to become dominant. Native trees that can be found in this habitat are Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), various Oak species (Quercus spp), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), and Hickory species (Carya spp). Tree species must compete for resources, including energy from the sun, so they often grow to considerable sizes and can produce a full canopy of leafy branches. Because of limited light and other resources, the forest floor supports shade tolerant species such as Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and many herbaceous plants.
If you would like to know more about the natural communities of the C&O Canal, please read the following document describing the dominant tree species found throughout the Park.

Last updated: July 20, 2016

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