Pine barrens, also known as pine plains, sand plains, pinelands, pine bush, and pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, occur throughout the northeastern U.S. from New Jersey to Maine (see Atlantic coastal pine barrens) as well as the Midwest and Canada. Pine barrens are plant communities that occur on dry, acidic, infertile soils dominated by grasses, forbs, low shrubs, and scattered trees; most extensive barrens occur in large areas of sandy glacial deposits, including outwash plains, lakebeds, and outwash terraces along rivers. The most common trees are the Jack Pine, Red Pine, Pitch Pine, Blackjack Oak, and Scrub Oak; a scattering of larger Oaks is not unusual. The understory is composed of grasses, sedges, and forbs, many of them common in dry prairies. Plants of the heath family, such as blueberries and bearberry, and shrubs such as prairie willow and hazelnut are common. These species have adaptations that permit them to survive or regenerate well after fire. Pine barrens support a number of rare species, including lepidoptera such as the Karner Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) and the barrens buck moth (), and plants such as the Sand-plain Gerardia (Agalinis acuta).
Barrens are dependent on fire to prevent invasion by woody species. In the absence of fire barrens will proceed through successional stages from savanna to closed-canopy forest. European settlers found extensive areas of open game habitat throughout the East, commonly called "barrens". The American Indians used fire to maintain such areas as rangeland. Open barrens are now rare and imperiled globally, as suppression of wildfires has allowed woody vegetation to take over in most one-time barrens. In North America, barrens exist primarily in the American Midwest and along the east coast.
In 1968, John McPhee published a book, entitled The Pine Barrens, exploring the history, ecology and geography of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, infused with his own personal memoirs.