Natural Community: Coastal Plain Oak Forest

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Rock Creek Park

If you trace the historic Civil War defenses circling Washington, D.C., you will find this forest east of Rock Creek.


Created by Alison Shapiro, Explore Natural Communities Intern Summer 2015, NatureServe.

Sounds: Musket Fire, recorded by nps ( Public Domain.
Red Shouldered Hawk Calling, recorded by MyBackyardBirding ( Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Music: Failing Defense, and Perspectives, by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Photo: New White Oak Leaves, by Matt Jones. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0


Podcast time: 1:33 minutes

Through the brush, you spot a flash of gunfire. Across the horizon, enemies make their way toward your forts, bayonets swinging.

During the Civil War, the Union army cleared the forests to build a ring of defensive forts around D.C. and to maintain open sight lines. But the Coastal Plain Oak Forest has since advanced, with tall oaks reclaiming their territory and vines growing up in a sneak attack of their own. Urban neighborhoods have also sprung up all around these former forts.

On the flat to rolling terrain of this natural community, located east of the Rock Creek Valley, grow willow oaks (Quercus phellos), as well as southern red oak (Quercus falcata), white oak (Quercus alba), and pine trees (Pinus spp.). Native greenbriers (Smilax spp.) and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) are also common here.

Native birds like the red-bellied woodpecker can also be seen in these trees. You may spot the occasional red-shouldered hawk at the edge of the forest. This natural community is usually found near wetlands, but in this case is found near urban neighborhoods and on hillsides along the old Civil War forts of D.C.

With such life and dense greenery, it can be easy to forget the war that reshaped this natural community long ago.

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