Plant Communities of Sewanee

Plateau Forest

The upland plateau forest is composed of a mixture of oak species (Quercus alba, Q. coccinea, Q.prinus,  Q. stellata, Q. velutina) and hickory species (Carya glabra, C. pallida, C. tomentosa) in the canopy along with Acer rubrum, Nyssa sylvatica, and Oxydendrum arboreum. The understory of the upland forest is composed of a variety of woody shrubs including Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron spp., and Vaccinium spp., along with a large number of grasses, sedges, and fall-blooming composites. Upland plateau forest dynamics are driven by limited soil resource availability; soils on the plateau are derived from sedimentary rocks and are acidic and well drained.

Cove Forest

The composition of the cove forest varies as a function of slope and aspect, but is generally characterized as having a diverse, mixed mesophytic canopy (Aesculus flava, Carya ovata, Juglans nigra, Liriodendron tulipifera, Tilia americana) with an oak (Quercus spp.) component and an Acer saccharum dominated understory and midstory. The cove forest understory has a diverse assemblage of herbaceous species. Cove forest dynamics are controlled to a greater degree by limited light availability. Soils in the bottomlands of the cove are moderately fertile, deep, and moderately well drained.

Typical of the southern Cumberland Plateau in TN, the UoS has two major types of forest draped across its plateau topography: an upland forest associated with the plateau surface and an adjacent cove forest.  Embedded within each of these two forests can be found a diverse array of plant communities. The upland and cove forest communities differ ecologically. Upland plateau forest dynamics are driven by limited soil resource availability whereas cove forest dynamics are controlled to a greater degree by limited light availability.  Less than 25% of the vascular plant species associated with the upland forest is also found in the cove forest.  Despite this dissimilarity, the plateau forest is just as diverse as the cove forest with upland forest species representing 48% of the total flora of the two forest types. 

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Jonathan P. Evans

Spencer Hall 153



Plant Ecology & Conservation Lab

Department of Biology

University of the South

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Sewanee, TN 37383

Sewanee Herbarium

Spencer Hall 171