Atlantic white cedar swamps are habitat for swamp pink (Helonias bullata), a federally-threatened and state-endangered flower of the lily family, as well as many other plant species distinct to the pinelands. In addition to plants, cedar swamps are a valuable habitat for the fauna of the Pinelands. At least one member of the butterfly and moth family, Hessel’s hairstreak (Mitoura hesseli), is exclusively dependent on Atlantic white cedar swamps, and is a species of special concern in New Jersey. Cedar swamps provide winter hibernation habitat for the state-endangered Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
The microsite conditions that make cedar swamps valuable to wildlife also make these sites valuable in their provision of ecosystem services, like water quality. Wetlands in general, and cedar swamps in particular are moderated environments in comparison to the surrounding landscape. Cedar swamps provide continuous cover throughout the year, creating a cool, shaded environment in the summer, and radiative cover in the winter.
Streams in the Pinelands are almost exclusively supplied by groundwater; the cedar helps to moderate base flow and acts as a filter for nutrients in water. Peat formed in the muck soils of cedar swamps removes and stores nutrients and pollutants from the water including significant quantities of carbon, providing a stable long-term carbon sink. The natural organic compounds found in the muck soils of cedar swamps contribute largely to the Pinelands region’s characteristic red-brown water color. The contribution of cedar swamps to the character of the Pinelands and its water cannot be understated.
Atlantic white cedar has experienced severe decline across its range, with New Jersey being the last stronghold of the resource. However, New Jersey’s resource is extremely vulnerable with less than 25,000 acres across the State. Much of this acreage is imperiled by coastal saltwater inundation directly resulting from increasing rates of sea-level rise due to global climate change.