The boreal forest is the second largest terrestrial biome, and the black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP) forest type occupies a large extent of boreal North America. Black spruce communities occur in a variety of environmental conditions and are especially important in the context of climate change because of underlain permafrost in much of the northern black spruce forests, as well as their adaptation to fire disturbance. We used a classification and ordination approach to describe and name Alaskan black spruce communities and relate them to key environmental variables. We analyzed the relationship of species richness with topographic position and with soil pH using both univariate and multivariate analysis of variance. We also explored the variability in structural, physical, and soil characteristics. We described three black spruce community types and five subtypes based purely on floristic composition. Paludification and topography were the most important gradients explaining species composition for the Fairbanks region (61% variance explained). However, at the scale of interior Alaska, pH, drainage, and productivity were the strongest environmental gradients (81% variance explained). We conclude that species composition of mature black spruce forests in interior Alaska results from the complex interaction of landscape and fire history, soil pH, paludification, permafrost, and topographic position.