Lost and Found: Remnants of the Big Savannah and Their Relationship to Wet Savannas in North Carolina


W.A. Wall

Additional Authors:

T.R. Wentworth, S. Shelingoski, J.M. Stucky, R.J. LeBlond, W.A. Hoffmann


December 2011


ABSTRACT Conversion to agriculture and plantations, development, and fire suppression have reduced the extent of savannas in the southeastern United States, and there is a need to catalog and classify the remaining savannas for both restoration and resource management purposes. The Big Savannah was a wet savanna in North Carolina that was destroyed in the 1950s, and subsequent vegetation classifications have generally not accommodated well the unique natural plant community of the Big Savannah. Vegetation reminiscent of that described for the Big Savannah was discovered north of the original site and designated as Wells Savannah. To evaluate the uniqueness of the savanna vegetation at Wells Savannah, we compiled a data set from permanent quadrats with information on vegetation and environmental variables from other Outer Coastal Plain savannas to compare with similar data from the natural community at Wells Savannah. We also inventoried an additional 26 quadrats on a tract adjacent to Wells Savannah that had experienced fire suppression. Results from multivariate analyses demonstrated clear differences between the Wells Savannah quadrats and other regional wet savanna quadrats based on both vegetation and soils. A number of species and several soil characteristics (higher clay percentage, and higher available iron and boron) distinguish Wells Savannah from other wet savannas. Although the fire suppressed quadrats near Wells Savannah had lower species richness, typical savanna species such as Ctenium aromaticum and Calamovilfa brevipilis were still present. Further exploration of fire-suppressed tracts in the area may yield more wet savanna inclusions similar to the former Big Savannah.