The Forests Across Maryland
In Maryland, the diversity of natural resources is greater than in most other states. Its position on the Atlantic seaboard, its 2,319 square miles of inland waterways including the Chesapeake Bay, and its wide range of soils, topography, and climate support a wide variety of plants, mammals, insects, and reptiles. Many species reach their northern, southern, western, or eastern limits of distribution in Maryland. This diversity has earned Maryland its nickname-America in Miniature.
Maryland spans 262 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest corner of the State. The State ranks 42nd in size with about 6.3 million acres. It is believed that nearly all of Maryland was forested when Lord Calvert arrived and founded St. Mary's City in 1634. Today, forests cover about 2.8 million acres or 44% of the total land area of Maryland. There has been a dramatic chanage in forest cover from 1634 to 1992.
The topography changes dramatically from east to west in Maryland. Large regions with similar geographical features such as elevation, topography, and soil, are classified as physiographic provinces. The physiographic provinces found in Maryland are shown on Map 1 in the centerfold.
Trees, shrubs, and herbs that require about the same growing conditions (soil, water, and climate) are frequently found growing together. These groups of plant species are called communities or associations. These communities, including animals living there, operate as a highly interrelated unit. Typically, the dominant species are used to name the associations. The dominant species is determined by the number of individual plants of each species, how they are distributed across the area, and the size of the plants.
Forest associations are specific kinds of associations or communities where trees are the dominant plants. For example, if a forest has a high number of large red and black oak trees, and many smaller hickories, the forest association would be oak-hickory. Or if there are about the same number of sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, and a few eastern hemlock, the forest association would be northern hardwoods. Generally, the more dominant species of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants (non-woody plants) are listed before the less dominant ones.
It is important to recognize the forest communities in Maryland because each community supports different plants and animals, and provides different benefits. Threats to forest health, as well as effects of protection measures vary from one forest community to the next. Descriptions of the major forest communities in Maryland follow.