The point-centered-quarter (PCQ) method has been applied in community analysis since the publication of the method nearly 50 years ago. This and other distance methods offer increased sampling efficiency over fixed-area plots (FAP), but have long been known to produce biased density estimates when plant distribution deviates from random spatial patterns. Spatial indices have been developed to quantify the direction of this bias when plant distributions are aggregated or evenly distributed. Its continued use, especially in community analysis, requires additional scrutiny in measurements of community structure. We measured 14 forest stands of varying age, elevation and disturbance regime using FAP and PCQ methods. Density estimates were biased, with the point-centered quarter method lower than fixed-area plot estimates when stems were aggregated and higher when stems were evenly spaced. In general the PCQ method underestimated species richness. The efficiency of the PCQ method makes it popular for ordination studies, although comparison of community structure varied from 18% to 90% similarity between the measurements of species basal area in the same stands using the two different methods. The bias observed in calculations of stem density, species abundance and community similarity indicate that use of the PCQ method should be approached with caution when used in community level analysis.