The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program has developed a classification system for natural communities. Communities are defined by a wide range of ecological characteristics, with the greatest emphasis upon vegetation and readily observable aspects of the physical environment such as topography, elevation, and wetness. While there is some overlap between the species and physical environments in different communities, each represents a distinct combination of species plus physical characteristics.
For the home gardener, familiarity with natural communities provides a framework in which to recognize patterns in the landscape. They help shape a meaningful picture of the natural world.
Gardens with plants that share a site’s natural community better adapt to existing conditions and, once established, are more likely to thrive with little care.
Gardens that are designed to mimic natural communities can approximate the richness of our local natural areas and help to support a large number of locally native animal and plant species.
Although many factors influence natural community type, you can estimate your natural community by determining your landscape position — landform (e.g. ridge, hillside, valley), orientation (e.g. north-facing vs. south-facing slope), slope steepness and, for stream communities, the width of the floodplain.
A, alluvial; B bottomland; DMOH Dry-Mesic Oak-Hickory; DOH, Dry Oak-Hickory; HB, Piedmont Heath Bluff; MMH, Mesic Mixed Hardwood; M, Monadnock