Identifying Communities Associated with NWI Types

State wetland reports by the NWI Program typically include a description of wetland types inventoried based on field investigations and/or work by other scientists reported in the literature. Using the following guidance, you can also get access to NatureServe’s descriptions of wetland plant communities for the entire nation by state and by wetland type from two sources: NatureServe and the U.S. National Vegetation Classification (USNVC).


When accessing the NatureServe Explorer, you will see that two searches are possible: one for plants and animals and another for “Ecological Communities & Systems.” The latter is the one of interest, so click on that and you’ll be directed to the search page. You’ll see two major search blocks – one for search by name and the other by grouping. Some names that could be used to pull out a list of wetlands would be swamp, marsh, bog, fen, salt marsh, and wet meadow, while the terms floodplain and lowland would also identify other wetland communities that may be intermixed with terrestrial habitats in these landscapes. To narrow the list of plant communities to your area of interest, you’ll find the word “Location” in blue typeface near the bottom of the page. Click on that and you’ll get a list of states that you can click on or a listing of regions that may be of broader interest. If you want to see what types of wetland communities are associated with the NWI type – PFO (palustrine forested wetland) in Massachusetts. You’ll have to generate a couple of lists: the first one would be by clicking on the gold arrow to the left of the word “Ecological Systems.” A list will come into view, and then click on “Land Cover Class: Woody Wetland” then click on the blue word “Location” below and the location page comes into view. Then click the box next to Massachusetts and then click on “Search Now” and you’ll get a list of forested wetland plant communities in the state. To get information on a specific type, click on the name of the community and you’ll be directed to specific information on that community. The list does not include floodplain communities, so you’ll have to do a separate search beginning with typing “Floodplain” in the “Search by Name” box, then click on the word “Location” and then on the box next to Massachusetts and you’ll get another list.

U.S. National Vegetation Classification

More detailed descriptions of plant communities can be found by accessing the USNVC Hierarchy Explorer. In their search block you can type in common names of wetland types (swamp, marsh, salt marsh, tidal marsh, tidal swamp, etc.) and you’ll find that certain categories of the hierarchy are highlighted. Click on the + signs and you’ll eventually find specific communities (alliances) highlighted in yellow. To the right of the highlighted name you’ll often find an icon for a pdf. Click on the icon and you’ll get a description of the “macrogroup” or “group” and some references.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List (NWPL)

The NWPL (and the information implied by its wetland plant species status ratings) is used extensively in wetland delineation, wetland restoration and research, and the development of compensatory mitigation goals, as well as in providing general botanical information about wetland plants. The NWPL covers all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Caribbean and Pacific islands that are considered to be territories of the U.S. However, to provide additional insights regarding plant distribution awareness, we have included the total geographic range for each taxon throughout North America north of Mexico. The wetland plant data are organized into ten regions that coincide with Corps wetland delineation regions. You can access the website by clicking here.