Natural Communities and More

Other Websites

Rock Creek Park

Walking the trails of Rock Creek Park, it is easy to be taken with its wooded beauty. Whether or not you know anything about its plant communities, it is gorgeous greenery. But, as with all things in nature, if you look more closely, you will see layer upon layer of fascinating patterns.

What accounts for these patterns in Rock Creek Park? What can we learn about how things in nature interact with each other? What clues can we piece together that will narrate part of the story of Rock Creek Park’s natural communities?


There are both subtle and bold patterns among the forests through which the park trails curve and climb. If you are familiar with any species of the trees, shrubs, or other plants around you, you may notice the abundance of some of those plants on certain parts of the landscape and their conspicuous absence on others. If you observe closely, you can find groups of plants that occur together regularly when certain environmental conditions are met.

Those groups of plants, in patterns that repeat themselves across the landscape of a region, are called “natural communities.” Ecologists study and name these communities—the Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel Forest, or the Red Maple Seepage Swamp, for instance. These natural communities function as essential habitat for wildlife species. Some animals may be found in most natural communities, some in only one or a few.

Some natural communities share broad characteristics and can be grouped together in what’s called an ecological system. An example is a River Floodplain Ecological System consisting of natural communities found on floodplains.

The more we learn about natural communities, the more fascinating they are—and the more precious, as we discover the roles they play in nature.

Explore these patterns:

natural communities of Rock Creek ParkNatural Communities

Learn about the natural communities you can find along the trails at Rock Creek Park and why they inhabit different areas in the landscape.

semi-natural communitiesSemi-Natural Communities

When is a plant community not quite a natural community?

not-so-natural communitiesNot-So-Natural Communities

Sometimes the vegetation patterns you see owe their look to ongoing human intervention...

ecological system mapEcological Systems (Broader Landscape Units)

Which of Rock Creek Park's natural communities naturally cluster with each other?

back to top

Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest – Erin Lunsford Jones; Rock Creek picnic area in floodplain – Erin Lunsford Jones