Forest Vegetation types - SH6

SH6Red spruce – Balsam fir / Stair-step moss – Sphagnum
Picea rubens – Abies balsamea / Hylocomium splendens – Sphagnum spp.

Castlereagh, Colchester County

Castlereagh, Colchester County

Concept: This mid-successional Vegetation Type (VT) is very similar to SH5 (Red spruce – Balsam fir / Schreber's moss), but occurs on moister sites. Tree cover is mainly red spruce with varying amounts of balsam fir. Typically minor amounts of red maple and white birch indicate recent disturbance events, whereas yellow birch, white pine and hemlock indicate development toward a later successional stage. Red spruce – Balsam fir / Stair-step moss – Sphagnum is a typical Acadian softwood VT found on moist, zonal sites in Nova Scotia.

Vegetation: Red spruce is usually the dominant overstory tree, although balsam fir may be abundant in some stands. Both species are usually well represented as regeneration in the shrub layer. Hybrid (red/black) spruce can also be found on more marginal sites. Low light availability often reduces the abundance of woodland flora, but moist soils associated with this VT generally support a higher diversity of species than drier red spruce types. In more moist sites, herbs like cinnamon fern, creeping snowberry, New York fern, interrupted fern and three seeded sedge will be present. The bryophyte layer is characterized by extensive coverage of mainly stair-step moss and Schreber's moss, with sphagnum moss present in wetter parts of the stand.

Environmental Setting: SH6 is mainly associated with fresh-moist to moist, nutrient medium soils of glacial origin. These soils are generally medium to coarse textured and often stony. This VT is found throughout mainland Nova Scotia and parts of Cape Breton. It is common in New Brunswick but infrequent across Prince Edward Island.

Successional Dynamics: SH6 is a predominantly even-aged, mid-successional VT dominated by red spruce. Usually SH6 develops from advanced regeneration that was present at the time of stand-level disturbance. If advanced regeneration is not present (or has been destroyed), SH6 can also develop from other vegetation types including IH3 (Large-tooth aspen /Christmas fern – New York fern), IH4 (Trembling aspen / Wild raisin / Bunchberry), IH5 (Trembling aspen – White ash / Beaked hazelnut / Christmas fern), IH6 (White birch – Red maple / Sarsaparilla – Bracken) and MW4 (Balsam fir – Red maple /Wood sorrel – Goldthread). This VT may succeed to later successional types such as SH1 (Hemlock / Pin cushion moss/ Needle carpet), SH2 (Hemlock – White pine / Sarsaparilla) and SH3 (Red spruce – Hemlock / Wild lily-of-the-valley).

Ecological Features: This closed canopy forest typically occurs over hundreds of hectares, forming matrix in many ecoregions. Balsam fir and red spruce are very shade-tolerant in the understory. Good seed crops in red spruce start at age 35-45, and the species does not regenerate well before age 50. Mature forests may provide habitat for spruce grouse, grey jays, red squirrels and flying squirrels. Large trees may provide nest sites for pileated and black-backed woodpeckers, barred owls and northern goshawks. South facing slopes may provide winter cover for deer. Young forests are preferred habitat for snowshoe hare. Creeping rattlesnake plantain is the only plant species of conservation concern known from this VT.

SH6 Characteristic Plants


Stair-step moss
Stair-step moss

Distinguishing Features:
A softwood forest of abundant red spruce with varying amounts of balsam fir occurring on imperfectly drained sites. Cinnamon fern, creeping snowberry, New York fern, interrupted fern and three seeded sedge indicate moister soils. The presence of sphagnum moss can be used to identify this vegetation type.

Site Characteristics

Slope Position:

Level7 Lower2 Other1

Surface Stoniness:

(Non - Slightly)9 (Very - Excessively)1

Bedrock Outcrop: 

(Non-rocky)9 (Slightly - Moderately)1

Elevation Range: 

16 - 278m

Slope Gradient: 

Level7 Gentle3


North1 East2 South1 None6


Moderate6 Mod. exposed3  Mod. sheltered1


Slightly4 Moderately3 Level1 Other2


Imperfect7 Moderately well3


Soil Characteristics

Soil Type: 

ST34 ST62 ST3-G1 ST161 Other2

Parent Material:

Glacial till7 Till/Bedrock1 Other2

Rooting Depth (cm):

(<30)6 (30-45)3 (>45)1

Duff Thickness (cm):

(6-10)3 (11-20)7

SH6 Map